This school year has been an incredible year for me so far. My students are simply heavenly. They are wonderful and engaged and enthusiastic and creative. Their energy and passion for learning have inspired me in many ways. Not only have my students inspired me this year, but you all have inspired me as well. This is the first school year where I have felt like a “connected” educator or at least I am on my way to being one. I have been inspired by the people I have met on Twitter and through this blog. I have entered into my classroom this year with renewed excitement and passion because of the things that I have read and the ideas that have been shared. It has been an amazing year. It has been a year like no other and as I find more and more ways to share power with my students in my classroom, I have felt more connected to them than ever. It has been amazing.
And yet. The bad days still happen.
Sometimes when we read these blogs, it is so easy to imagine that everyone who writes them is just perfect. They always say the right thing to the right child. They always have a smile on their face. Their classrooms are magical places and they never get frustrated or snippy or impatient. And I am sure that there are teachers who ARE like that.
I am not one of them.
Friday reminded me of that. It was a bad day. A really bad day. I got into an argument with a coworker first thing in the morning. The kind of argument that leaves you feeling shaken and unsure of what just happened and an overall feeling of bad about yourself. You see, I can be a really kind person. I can be patient and helpful. I can make people feel pretty good about themselves and I am often good for a laugh when everything just feels awful. But I can also be pretty awful. When I am frustrated, I am a whole lot of not fun. When I am having a bad day, I shut down pretty hard and I don’t accept help in pulling out of that bad place too easily. And on Friday I was all of those things. Starting at 8:00 am.
So yes. It was a bad day. When the kids walked into the classroom, I tried to pull it together. I tried to be better than I really was in that moment. Thinking back on the day now, I should have shared with my kids right from the start that I was having a bad day. I should have let them know that it had been a rough morning and I should have let them be there for me just like I would have wanted to be there for them. But I didn’t. I did what we all do, what we all think is best in the moment, I tried to just move along and pretend everything was fine. My amazing teaching assistant took over for the first few minutes of the day and led the kids in the most adorable “show and tell” session. I was unbelievably grateful to her. And then I tried to jump right in. And we made it for a while. Things were going okay. Until they weren’t.
We were pretty short on time by the end of the morning and I asked the kids if they wanted to use the time we had left for read aloud or independent reading. Usually, we have more than enough time for both, but it had been such an off day and things were far from usual. I knew that there was still a child who I had to check in with because her mother had left a message to let me know she had shared some troubles that she was having with another student and her mother and I were both worried and I knew I needed to touch base with her before the weekend began. So that was in the back of my mind. I just wanted the kids to make a decision so I could pull this child to talk with her and leave my teaching assistant to do the day’s read aloud or get the kids started in independent reading. I needed the kids to make a quick decision. The kids decided to vote on if they wanted to use our time for read aloud or independent reading. It was a pretty split vote. And all of a sudden the whining started. It was only from a few of the kids, but it was overwhelming none the less. The quick decision that I was hoping for, that I was depending on (which I recognize was not at all fair to those kids) was just not going to happen.
And I snapped. I told the kids that this was the kind of behavior that made me not want to give them a choice in our classroom. And they were silent. Really, awfully silent. And I sent them off to do independent reading because I thought it was the best thing for all of us.
But I so wished that I had not said what I had said. You see, in that one moment, I felt like I undid a lot of the work that we had done together as a class so far this school year. In that one moment I made it seem like though I could make it look like we shared the power in the classroom, the truth was that I am able to take that all away. My words made it seem like I “allow” them to have that power and I can take it all back if they are whiny or difficult or just being themselves on a day when I have very little patience. And that isn’t fair to them. If we share the power, then we share it no matter what.
And I know most of the kids didn’t see it all this way. I know that it’s okay to let the kids know that there are expectations even when we share the power in the room. I know that it isn’t as awful as it was in my mind. Except in that moment, that’s exactly how I felt. And looking back on it all now, I wish that I would have been more honest with them and just let them know what I was feeling. That is what they deserve.
So as the kids quickly went off to read, I pulled the student who I needed to talk to. We talked for the remaining 20 minutes of class and then we talked through their 30 minutes of Spanish class. There were many things that needed to be said and I felt good that at least she and I had the talk that we needed to have. And then, to make her feel better, I went out to recess with the kids to keep an eye on a few situations she had alerted me to.
And then. Finally. I came inside for lunch. And I had a chance to reflect in the silence of an empty classroom. And I felt awful about the way I had spoken to the kids and I felt awful about the day in general.
And then I walked into the hallway to fill my cup with water and one of my students ran right up to me and said, “Hi, Mrs. Lifshitz!” with a huge, genuine smile and then gave me a hug and ran off to finish her lunch.
And I realized. Yes, bad days still happen. They will always happen. We are human. But on those bad days, we get to draw from the reservoir of good that we build up through all of the other days. We get to fall back on knowing that most of the time, the vast majority of the time, we do what is best for our students. And one bad moment does not erase all of the good that we have done.
So Monday will be better. I will apologize to my kids and we will move on. In all honesty, I am pretty sure my students moved on five minutes after it all happened, but I want them to know that when we mess up, the best we can do is own up to it, apologize and move on. I want them to see that I mess up too and that I try my best to fix it when I do. And if I went along pretending I was perfect all year, I wouldn’t ever have the chance to show them what it means to take ownership over your actions even when they aren’t good ones. Besides, sharing our imperfections with others is what brings us closest together. The only way I would have been able to fool these kids into thinking I was perfect was by not being genuine and authentic with them and that would do a whole lot more damage than one Fall Friday morning where I was not a great version of myself.
“Sometimes when we read these blogs, it is so easy to imagine that everyone who writes them is just perfect. They always say the right thing to the right child. They always have a smile on their face. Their classrooms are magical places and they never get frustrated or snippy or impatient. And I am sure that there are teachers who ARE like that.
I am not one of them.”
I just stumbled across your blog because your tweet under #teachwriting caught my attention, and I love your honesty! I have had a few “Oh my god everyone on Twitter & WordPress is so much smarter than I am” moments, so I think I understand what you are describing here very well.
I’m sure that you’re right that your kids moved on 5 minutes after the incident, but it’s terrific that you’re going to take the time to apologize anyway. I firmly believe that it’s okay for us to be human in our classrooms, and also that modeling how to admit our mistakes and offer an apology can be a powerful community-builder.
(For what it’s worth, I didn’t have a great Friday, either – that’s why your tweet caught my eye! Maybe it’s the time of year, the fatigue that inevitably catches up with us in November before we get the Thanksgiving break?)
Thank you for such an honest and authentic reflection. It made me think of a day a few years back when I said something to a student that I immediately regretted. I pulled her aside and apologized to her. She said what most children would say, “Oh, it’s o.k.” I reassured her that what I had said was NOT ok, and I apologized again. I think she was very surprised because, too often, teachers do not own their mistakes and show their human side, as you mentioned. If we expect students to do this, why wouldn’t we. We need to swallow our pride and let them know that when we mess up (and we all do), we can made amends. Here’s to a great week and new opportunities to be your best self!