You’re at work. It’s been a tough day. You’ve had a hard lockdown drill, you were just told it’s time for another formal observation and all the extra paperwork that goes along with that, there has been a rash of kids out with the flu, which means getting their work together and planning for their return. You have a pile of work on your desk that needs feedback, late work handed in that really needs to be handed back, and the last kid that handed you a quiz had wiped a booger on it (hey, it happens). You’re wondering what to tackle first in the 25 minutes you have left for prep when you realize you haven’t gone to the bathroom or eaten lunch. Overwhelmed, you look around and one of your neediest kids in your class is walking in your door, eyes fixed on you, looking like he is in trouble…
And in these moments, we have a choice.
One option would be to give them the “now what did you do?” face and be immediately irritated that s/he interrupted the few moments that you had to try to dig out of your piles of work or just take care of your basic human needs. When they start to speak, you could couple that look of irritation with an exasperated-sounding voice and tell them that if what they need isn’t important, they need to get back to whatever or wherever they were supposed to be.
Another option would be to take a deep breath and remember your teacher’s heart. Give the child a clean slate, smile, and look at them like they were just the person that you wanted to see. The choice that you make in that moment could be the only time during the day where that child didn’t feel like they were disliked or trouble or a walking problem. I guarantee that they wouldn’t be in there if they didn’t need you in some way, and should they need to justify the importance to you in comparison to your other duties?
Our job is to teach children. Assessments, feedback, curriculum and data all have their place, but our main goal is to help develop healthy, mindful, happy kids. It doesn’t matter if they are five or 15. It is not our place, no matter how difficult our current situation is (professionally or privately) to allow our baggage to affect the students we serve. They might not understand everything that is happening in your day, nor should they be expected to. Their focus should be on developing their own skills, personalities, and working through their own adversities. They should never be the collateral damage in someone else’s bad day.
That child could have been coming in to tell you they were recognized in another class for doing something amazing and they chose to tell YOU. They could be coming in to tell you they need a hug because they can’t remember the last time they got one. They could be coming in to admit to you they’re suicidal and finally gathered the nerve to ask for help. Your reaction could determine the outcome of that moment.
It’s possible that the child you see coming into the classroom might have challenges at home that you don’t know about and can’t even dream of. That if they truly wrote their story out for you, you wouldn’t even be able to read it because it would be so heartwrenching. This could be any kid in your class at any moment of the day and there’s a good chance you don’t even know. That one smile, from that one moment, could be the entire reason that they come to school. Not only is it your job to know their stories, but it is your entire reason for being a teacher. Create the relationship that brings these kids through in their time of need. And sometimes it might feel like their time of need is every day, and if that’s true, so be it. That is why teaching is more than a profession, it is a calling.
And if you screw up and accidentally allow your irritation to come through? No doubt I’ve allowed my current situation to dictate my reaction to the people around me. However, just like we would expect out of kids, there should be an apology. Say you’re sorry. They might be kids and we might be the adults, but being an adult isn’t an excuse for poor behavior. We are not the “boss” of kids, nor are we above apologizing to them. Being nice, kind, and showing humility does not “undermine our authority”, it shows that you’re human.
It’s so important to be aware enough of what you’re doing during every moment of the day and to watch for these opportunities to build kids up. If you choose option one, that choice is more about you than it is about them. Choose to have moments that end with a smile and a high five. Those kinds of moments are the absolute best part of teaching.