Confessions of a Teacher
This article belongs to Just Bee column.
At this time of the year, in the high school where I've taught for some time, lockers are emptied and final exams administered. Yearbooks are signed and there are plenty of goodbyes. Commencements commence and students and teachers alike look forward to a long-awaited respite from school. Yes, the school year has finally ended.
Yet, in spite of the colossal wave of relief surges over me during this time, there is also something about the end of the school term that makes me a bit maudlin, too. I seem to forget all the frustrations and headaches I may have experienced in my endeavor to educate teenagers. Instead, I begin to recall the personal discoveries in the past year. Although I learned them within the confines of a school, these lessons stretch far beyond classroom walls and can be applied to almost every job or interpersonal relationship.
Lesson #1: Forgiveness A few weeks ago, a student, let's call him Calvin, called me an idiot. He, along with the rest of the class, was working independently on a laptop computer until the silence was broken by a series of loud outbursts. I openly reprimanded Calvin, who I believed was responsible for disrupting the class. That's when he blurted, "You idiot," obviously directed at me. My response to this simply was, "Calvin. Hallway. Now."
Once we were outside the classroom, I chided him for his act of blatant disrespect. He apologized to me and claimed that my act of upbraiding him frustrated him because I had mistaken him for another student. I thanked him for his apology and allowed him to return back to class, detention-free. I understood how he may have felt perturbed because I might have felt the same way in his situation. And, this got me thinking: if I wanted my students to forgive me for having a bad day, karmically speaking, I'd also have to forgive them, right? The years have taught me to acknowledge the fact that it is okay to have what I refer to as an "off day" now and again. In fact, I instituted a new grading policy where the lowest score of each term is dropped. So, while it's okay to have a bad day once in a while, the underlying message is to learn from it in order to move on to better days and more enriching experiences.
Lesson #2: Think Before You Speak Sure, thinking before you speak sounds easy enough. However, in any situation where your mind is racing and your emotions percolating, thinking before you speak can be a challenge. It takes the same level of discipline as training your muscles through physical practice in a gym. I've learned that pressing pause on the motor that is often my mouth has precluded the spewing of things I might potentially regret.
And with students, it has tremendously helped me to "cool off" during confrontations. Furthermore, practicing this art truly commands others to listen to what you have to say. The practice of these deliberate pauses has significantly reduced my use of "um's" and other senseless fillers in my lectures, while creating an environment that increases student attention. Now, instead of tuning out the "talking head" in the front of the room, students may dangle from my every word.
Lesson #3: Integrity is Golden When a cell phone goes off in the middle of class, students start looking around, frightened, hoping it's not theirs, aware of the consequences. Mobile phones are not permitted in schools, and they could be confiscated. But what happens when the ringing phone belongs to the teacher? And what if the teacher, when she realizes it is her phone, picks it up and checks the voice mail in the middle of class?
Some teachers feel that school rules do not apply to them. Knowing how potentially harmful this kind of hypocrisy can be, I must be sure I do not become an advocate of "do as I say, not as I do", understanding that children and adults alike learn more from experience than lecture. How can we expect our students to adhere to rules if we do not model the behavior for them? This is where the concept of integrity is applicable. Early in the year, I ask my literature students to explore the term and write an essay about integrity. It's a word I use a great deal in my classes – I encourage them to think, act, write and speak with integrity. Of course, this reminds me to do the same. For research has proven that children learn what they witness and live, rather than what they are simply told to do.
Lesson #4: Staying Current Every school year I learn some new trends and lingo that keep me young and hip with the teens. For example, "That's sick!" simply means "off da hook". I've also learned if you don't want to be a "hot mess", "just chill, aiight?" My students laugh at me when I catch myself in a blunder and say, "my bad" because it is something they say, and it's weird that I am trying to speak their language (as they put it). I, however, try to explain to them that it was my generation who coined that phrase along with others they still use today, such as "Psych!" However, when asked to spell the root word, they often write s-i-k-e, which makes me laugh.
But it always leads to a lesson on the origin of the word and its connection to the mind. Students are enthralled, and in some ways, acquire more respect for the older generation who speaks "in code", too. It is at times like these, when I see the little light bulbs illuminate over their heads, I learn to be grateful for having a job, that while often grueling, teaches me more every day, and can be a hell of a lot of fun, too.