Early in my teaching career, I remember many nights where I would come home and cry.
It wasn’t because of how exhausting the work was (because it was), but it was often because of an adverse interaction with a student that day. One time specifically, I remember a student telling me to go “do something” to myself because I asked them to come into the school from physical education class. That was it. I took it personally and saw this as a reflection of myself, and although I didn’t show it at the moment to the student, I was extremely upset about the interaction.
Now I often had a great rapport with so many students, but little interactions like this would get to me. But then we had an opening day speaker that said something to the audience that I remember to this day and have always held on to in my head.
“Never let an eight-year-old ruin your day.”
It was a simple statement, and it made sense. He further went on to elaborate that many of the bad interactions were not about what you (the teacher) was doing, but what the student was going through outside of school. I have been reminding groups that I have been working with that school is the most joyous place for many of our students. I know that in some of my discussions with learners over the years, that they are going through things as kids that I am not sure I could handle as an adult.
Here is what I am NOT saying:
That we shouldn’t have high expectations for the behavior of our students and that we shouldn’t create a respectful environment for all of us to be a part of and feel valued.
That we should never have self-accountability for our time with our students. There are times where I could have been better in a moment and I tried my best to apologize immediately to my students if I wasn’t the best I could be.
That we can’t be vulnerable and show our students that we are hurt by their words or actions at that moment.
That we shouldn’t care deeply for our students and be emotionless when we have bad interactions.
I am saying that it is important that many of the things that I took personally as a teacher were not personal at all. They were about the student and not me. This quote from “Lost at School” by Ross W. Greene is a great reminder:
“Challenging behavior occurs when the demands and expectations being placed upon a child outstrip the skills he has to respond adaptively.”
I have had students say horrible things to me and then tell them, “I don’t appreciate that you are saying that, but I am going to stick with you through this.” It is not always easy. I have done my best to let students know that when they are struggling that I am going to do my best to be there and support them. It is not easy, but in my head, I would say to myself over and over again, “This is not about you. This is not about you. This is not about you.”
Challenging behaviors can be just that; challenging. But in my own experience, I have found that the best way to move forward, and what I had seen modeled my many amazing teachers I have had the privilege to work with, was to care more for the student at that moment as they needed it. It didn’t solve all of the problems I faced, but it did stop a lot of my own crying after school.
Our expectations for our students should always be high but just a reminder that many of our negative interactions are more about the student than anything. I did my best to help them grow in that moment and place the focus on them instead of myself.
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