Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Learning Experience

Yesterday I had an interesting occurrence. In my second reading class of the day, a boy came up to me after my mini-lesson and said, “Mrs. S., something unsavory was written on this clipboard.”

My first thought was – unsavory? Wow – great vocab! My second thought was what on earth now?

Glancing down at the clipboard I saw a giant word in pencil – the mother of all swear words. Yowza. Looking below it I saw my name. Hmm, interesting.

I glanced back up at this young boy and saw his eyes welling up. He quickly said, “I promise I didn’t write it.” I hugged him, assured him I knew it wasn’t him, and he went to his reading spot.

What is interesting to me is my own reaction. At first I felt bad that someone had written this, ashamed even. I thought about that on and off the rest of the school day. It was only during my nightly walk on the treadmill (YAY #nerdlution!) that I really examined these feelings.

My realization is that it hurt my feelings that a student doesn’t like me. Obviously I’m not in this line of work to become friends with my students. That being said, you pour yourself into this job, you give up so much. I love my students. The idea that one didn’t reciprocate that feeling made me sad. But then, I had another light bulb go off. I thought about myself as a teen. How furious I would be with my parents when they would ground me or call me on my “crap.” How I was so often angry with them while trying desperately to ignore who I truly should be angry with, myself. I’m pretty sure that is what was happening here as well.

So, what to do about it. Obviously, I could ignore it. The only person beyond the one who wrote it that knew about the existence of the “note” was the kind boy who found it. That’s not my style. I like talk, reflection, discussion, growth. I wanted to address it.

Today with each reading class we started out the same way. I told them what happened. (Omitting the exact language.) I told them I realized that someone was upset with me, maybe more than one someone. And I was honest. I told them that I was hurt at first, that I truly felt bad. Then I told them that I realized that the author of the note was probably mad because I was pushing them, trying to get them to grow, and holding them accountable and sometimes growth hurts.

I tried to look each student in the eye as I said the next part. I stressed to each group that I loved them and if it was their note, that I forgave them. I understand what it means to be angry at yourself and express it towards someone else. It makes you feel bad. If they need to talk, I’m here.

What happened next was pretty predictable. With each class there were gasps that one would dare write a mean note about their teacher. With each class I had kids come up afterwards to hug me, to promise they hadn’t written it. I hugged them back, reassured them that I knew that already.

What didn’t happen is anyone confessing to their literary masterpiece, and that’s ok. I didn’t expect them to and don’t need them to. I’m looking at this as a growing lesson for my students and for me. We’ve all learned something from it. I hope the one who wrote it could feel the love I was trying to send them today, because I truly was. I worry about some of these kids. They don’t know what to do with this lady that stands in front of them, reads them books, cries, hugs, and tells them over and over that she believes in them and knows they can do more. I just hope one day they “get” it and believe in themselves too. 


  1. Betsy Michele HubbardDecember 5, 2013 at 7:13 PM

    I hope they get it someday too. Love all the reflection you did here and that your response was controlled, not outrage. Some would not be so understanding. This post oozes love and understanding, character we want our students to witness.

  2. I hope they get it someday, too! I would have felt so lucky to have you as a teacher when I was your students' age.

  3. I teach 4th grade and something similar happened recently. A girl in my class wrote, "I hate Ms. Hunt," on the wall in the bathroom stall. It made me feel bad at first, but like you, I realized that it was because I push her to do her best. Several students came up to me in tears hugging me and telling me they were sorry she did that, and they loved me. I told them I appreciated their expressions of love, and I forgave the offending student. They looked surprised, but I continued by saying that she was probably angry. She admitted that she did it and really didn't know why she wrote that. I told her I loved her and wouldn't hold it against her. Since that time, whenever she sees me outside of class, she runs up to hug me and greet me. Students need to know that they can make mistakes, learn from them, and move on. As I once heard, they won't learn grace unless someone gives them grace.

    I love reading your blog. Thanks for writing about things that you experience, even unpleasant experiences.

  4. A perfect response -- honesty. And what good modeling that you didn't respond immediately (when you were feeling hurt and angry), but waited until you had found the RIGHT response.

  5. I know they felt your love because I can feel it now through your words. I think it is so insightful of you to realize that this kid does not dislike you at all, but instead is pushing back at your pushing to high standards.
    Your response was so heartfelt and perfect. I know it will make a difference to all of them in different ways.

  6. I love this line:" They don’t know what to do with this lady that stands in front of them, reads them books, cries, hugs, and tells them over and over that she believes in them and knows they can do more." This speaks to the heart of the situation. You nailed it! It wasn't important that they "confessed". It was important that you gave them unconditional love. I have had this happen to me and it will happen again. Your insights will help me navigate those difficult moments.

  7. LoraleeLandersDruartDecember 7, 2013 at 5:18 AM

    My favorite part..."They don’t know what to do with this lady that stands in front of them, reads them books, cries, hugs, and tells them over and over that she believes in them and knows they can do more." Your students are so blessed to have you.