I heard the now vintage Counting Crows song “A Long December” on the radio this afternoon and my mind swept back to friends I miss to the depths of my soul. It has been a rough few weeks, today one of the worst days I have had as a teacher. I felt like Erin Gruwell from Freedom Writers when one of my students looked at me and asked, “Do you even know what you’re doing?”
I tried not to take it personally. The student disrupts class often, usually finding some way to undermine my authority and bring her classmates on board, as well.
I try to be gracious. We’ve been in school for over three months and I have yet to writer her up, send her out, or call home. She is 18 years old. I shouldn’t need to call her mother to get her to control her behavior. But today I felt there was no other choice.
Why do I work this way? My colleagues are quick to blurt out, “Write them up!” every time I mention a disruption in my class. “Call home! Kick them out!” I teach seniors. Some of my students already live on their own or in a shelter or with friends. Calling home usually ends in either a constant ringing or the ever-professional We’re sorry. The number you are trying to reach is no longer in service…
It does require a lot of stress and strength to be forgiving, trusting, gracious to my students. They are teenagers, after all. But I remember a few teachers I had who never raised their voice, never lost their temper, and I was grateful. I’ll admit, I wasn’t easy to handle either. But some of my favorite teachers accepted my faults, sometimes even found some way to manipulate them constructively. And I always loved them for it.
I’m not there yet. I don’t know how to transform disrespect, anger, negativity, bitterness into something constructive. I do my best by staying positive, teaching with enthusiasm, using a variety of teaching strategies in order to reach all types of learners. But they don’t teach you in college how to handle a student who probably just wants to watch the class go down in flames.
So I had a bad day. During my planning, I sulked to the library because I needed a quiet place to just sit and remain calm for at least 30 minutes. I debated taking a power nap on one of the library couches. The school librarian smiled when he saw me.
“How are you doing, buddy?” he asked.
“Ugghh. It’s been a day,” I said.
Then something remarkable happened. Minutes after my rear end touched one of the cozy chairs, one of my colleagues walked in, sighed, and said, “Ugghh. It’s been a day.”
I nearly wept. I stood up and asked her if it would be inappropriate if I gave her a hug. “Of course not,” she said. As I hugged her, we both laughed and shared our griefs for the day. Funny thing is, there was more humor in our complaints than anger, a sort of unity that linked us as educators and affirmed our similar struggles as common to all who take on the challenge of teaching young people. It also allowed us to remember that a few really bad days does not make you a bad teacher.
God never ceases to amaze me. I am where I am because of God. It’s not easy, but if it were I might take it for granted. It’s when I depend on my own skills and might that I feel like a failure. But when I see God at work, even in the hug of a colleague, I am reminded why I’m here. In Revelation, Jesus said, “I know all the things you do, and I have opened a door for you that no one can close. You have little strength, yet you obeyed my word and did not deny me.”
I pray that in spite of class disruptions, student disrespect, bureaucratic political agendas, and professional doubt, that verse remain tattooed on my heart until my last breath.
“A long December and there’s reason to believe, maybe this year will be better than the last.” — Counting Crows, “A Long December”