“I‘ve had it up to here with them. They just … oooohhhh …”
She sobbed. I sat there in my classroom hoping to decompress from another long day with my sixth grade homeroom class when she walked in, needing a colleagues’ ear.
“You think you’re coming in to teach. You plan, grade papers, and plan some more, and you think it’s going to go so well, and … I just don’t know.”
She shook her head.
“I understand,” I said as I nodded my head, hoping to just soak in her energy a bit. She just finished teaching my homeroom class, so we were on the same wavelength in some way.
“I got this kid who comes in late, disrupting the whole class. Once he starts, then the other gets started too, and so does this one, and it just gets ridiculous. They have so much potential and they’re sooo smart, but they just don’t want to listen. I don’t know …”
I listen intently. Before I even got my first word out, she’s sniffling. Tears stream past her glasses and down her face. I get the box of tissues I saved for the kids. The last time I had an episode like this was my first year of teaching. Two years later, my turn came to console someone else. It felt odd for a minute because, at that point, I was one of the younger teachers on staff.
While we started to develop a real “professional learning community,” some of us also also didn’t want to lose sight of developing a personal learning [loving?] community.
Teachers, specifically in the middle grades, need someone to just listen. Many of us have seen good and bad approaches to consoling an upset teacher. The best approaches often involve lots of listening, less directing. It usually means, for instance, that you’re taking cues from the speaker for how to respond. You try to relate to them on a personal level, refocus the conversation towards next steps, and use as few words as possible. Having a list of things for the teacher to do right off the bat doesn’t help, and neither does letting the conversation simmer past a boil. Exhaling means inhalation, too.
Doing this (without repercussions) builds trust rather quickly.
Also, we need to remember that, because our children barely know themselves, they almost demand that we have a clear sense of self when we walk into the classroom. From the energies we give off to the way we dress in the classroom, the firm stances and high expectations we set give children a sense of security. Some of them barely know how to tie their shoelaces, much less develop their own routines for learning in a class. Over the years, teachers who remember this learn how to step off the ledge and not beat themselves up for having a bad day.
We can take the work seriously without taking ourselves so seriously.
About six months after the aforementioned incident, I needed someone to listen as well. One person who I thought I could rely on used it against me eventually. It probably led to my worst year as a teacher ever. But I had enough friends and family who did have their ear turned to me, who wanted me to succeed, and who pulled me off the ledge.
Or else I might have quit. I love my job. So does she. We’re better for having 15 minutes of someone else’s ear. Maybe both.
Mr. Vilson, who was reminded today of this …