At different times over the past three years, I have written posts or started to write posts, and for some reason, I haven’t been able to work some of them out. For one reason or another, the idea wasn’t finished or at least not at the level where I felt it was good enough to publish. I have recently had the desire to go back and finish some of those posts, so this week, I am going to finish 5 posts that have been sitting in my draft folder for a while, in some cases, over two years. I picked five that I wanted to finish, maybe not the best, but ones that I needed to work out and take the time to finish because they meant something to me. Today’s post was originally written on June 15th, 2011, when I was wrapping up the final weeks of my first year in administration. All week, whatever I had written will be in italics and then I will add to the post to finish it. Kathy Melton is joining me in this week-long return to posts we never finished, her blog can be found here.
I like the times that our conversations about education are flipped and we play the Devil’s Advocate. When this happens, you end up seeing what the issue is really about. This week, I have been treated like crap by a couple of angry students, and I keep repeating my mantra “It’s not about me, It’s not about me”. But, what if it IS about me? What if this student really sees me as the problem? What if this student really does dislike me? What if this student feels I am incompetent? What should this change?
Well, in my opinion, it really should change nothing.
Let’s play this one out… So let’s say I interact with a student, I talk to him or her about a situation, allow them to offer their feedback, and then I deal with it as I see fit. Let’s say this kid launches into a tirade of how I am unfair, how I am picking on them, how I am on a power trip, and that they would rather see me hit by a bus than show up at the school the next day. What if this student won’t give me a chance when I try to talk to them and wants nothing to do with me. How do I move forward?
Well, first of all, I am not paid to be my students’ friend, I am paid to educate them, and while a healthy relationship with that student would be more beneficial, I may have to work, for at least a little while, coping as best I can with our fractured relationship. Second, I teach so that everyone can be successful, not just the students who like me. I have a job to do and I will do it regardless of how the students feel about me. Third, I am a model for my students, a point that is important to remember, and how I handle this situation will show them a great deal.
If I hold a grudge and can’t move past this interaction, I teach my students that when people treat you poorly, it's ok to give them the power to control you. I show them that I am unable to wipe the slate clean and start again. I am telling them “If you make a mistake with me, I no longer value you as my student”. If I ignore the student, I teach them that when people hurt you, they aren’t worth your time. I show them that I will react to their poor treatment of me with poor treatment of them. I tell them “If you aren’t respectful, you aren’t worth my time or attention”. If I lash out at them I am teaching them that the way to solve a problem is by fighting and belittling. I am showing them that they don’t have an adult as a teacher, but rather a peer. I am telling them “If you come at me with disrespect, I’ll disrespect you right back”.
If a student is treating you poorly, and it turns out you are the reason, not a crappy night of sleep, a tough interaction with a parent, or a social issue with a peer, it doesn’t change who you are and what you are expected to do. It might not be easy, but our job stays the same regardless of how we are treated.
Wow. Did I write this? I am a little surprised. Clearly, it was June and I was dealing with some young people who were not treating me all that well. As you can see, this post was done, and I must have made the decision it was a little too harsh to send out. Let me see if I can put into words how I feel about this post now, two years later…
Reading over it a few times now I believe my intent was correct. How we interact with our students, especially in times of frustration – theirs or ours – can have a profound impact on the student and our relationship. What I find interesting is I don’t remember these interactions, and I have a pretty good memory. When I look back on that year in administration I remember the last few months being a wonderful experience that reinforced for me that I would want to return to administration when I was done coaching (or earlier as it turned out).
I do try to mend fractured relationships and at least gain the respect of a student when dealing with them on a matter of discipline, so my best guess is that I was frustrated that I couldn’t get through to this student or these students and it was bothering me.
In the past couple of years since I wrote this, a couple of things have happened. The first being that I changed schools, and in this new school the way that discipline is handled is more open to the interpretation of the professional dealing with the issue. There is a great deal of trust in that, and a lot of flexibility which leads, usually, to better interactions with the students. The second is that I have gained a wealth of experience from working with two amazing administrators in this building, my principal Carolyn and the Assistant Principal Tracy. The two of them have given me so many more tools in dealing with students that I haven’t had any situations like this arise in the two years here.
All that being said, I’ll play Devil’s advocate and say if something like this situation arose again, I believe a lot of what I wrote was correct: In dealing with the student I would want to show them respect and care, show them that this is simply a hiccup and that our relationship will not be broken because of it, and that I want success for all students not just the ones I get along well with. I guess the only real change to this post would be that I believe I have a far more developed ability to avoid getting to this point, and that has everything to do with some learning I have done by working with really great people and following their lead.