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.