If there’s one thing that irritates me about first-year teachers, it’s when they start the year thinking they’ll make everything look easy. That by just working a little harder and wanting it a little more, they’ll succeed where the rest of us failed. That by refusing to acknowledge that enormous challenges might stand in the way, they won’t have to go through them like everyone else. That they assume to see some simple path to perfection that millions of teachers before them have ignored.
That stuff drives me crazy. It’s why I don’t read new teacher blogs this time of year.
Well, the embarrassing part is that I went right ahead and did the exact same thing as a first-year administrator. I looked at everyone else, decided they were doing it wrong, and figured I’d just “prioritize” and get things right. Hahahahahahahaha. I was so naive that I already want to punch myself in the face.
For example: Why are administrators out of the building all the time? Don’t they know we need them here? Teachers work all evening – can’t they just wait to do go to District until after the kids leave? They’d have to drag me kicking and screaming off campus during the school day.
NOPE. Not how it works. Turns out I have no control whatsoever in when I’m off campus. All of our discipline runs through the public school system, so we have to adhere to all their policies and procedures. Being at a charter doesn’t even save me. If they require me at a meeting or a training, then I have to be there. If I don’t show up, they either won’t give me access to do required parts of my job, or I’ll be horribly unprepared to do things right. There’s no summary or recording or email or anything if I miss it. They’ve put me in 5 meetings over the last two weeks, including one that they only gave me 24 hours notice for. They pull me right out of the middle of my day, and there’s no “come after the kids go home” option. And I actually want to be at these meetings, because otherwise I don’t have the information I need to do my job well. So I go, and hope no children explode, and try to hurry back as fast as I can.
Or this one: Why is my administrator having such a nice chat with that kid? Isn’t he suspended? Shouldn’t he be miserable all day long? Shouldn’t they be yelling and furious so that he’s terrified to come back? I’d never be so kind to a kid who did something so wrong.
Ahhhhhh practicality. It turns out when kids are suspended, the goal is actually not to make them miserable. The goal is to make sure they can return to learning as quickly and successfully as possible. The goal is also to make sure that you both survive the day.
The first kid I suspended, I tried to go hard. I was angry, we had a stern talk, he spent a lot of time writing a reflective essay while I drilled him with tough questions. It was all very textbook and lovely, and he was appropriately upset and remorseful. This all lasted until about lunch time, when he remembered that he doesn’t control anger well. When he returned from lunch, he started storming around my office, yelling and breaking pencils and clenching his fists and quite seriously threatening to leave the building. I was standing between him and the door, and wasn’t exactly interested in escalating things further. Yelling would have done exactly nothing productive, except maybe force me to call police on a runaway child. Instead, I dug up everything I know about de-escalation and got hilariously calm. I disarmed him with friendly questions, used my most soothing voice, and made my office feel like the safest space I could. Slowly he came down, until finally we were sitting at my table, drawing pictures and talking about life. I learned about his family, I taught him some geography, and I convinced him that staying in school and finishing his classwork was a good choice. We bonded, but more importantly he stayed for his whole suspension and no one got hurt.
And if I’d been a teacher walking by, I would have been irritated with me for the peaceful chat we ended up having. I know I didn’t do a perfect job with that kid that day, but I also know it would have been much worse if I’d stuck to my original plan for handling kids in trouble. I had no idea, and I’m so sorry for thinking I did.