You know the one.
She’s the one muttering under her breath, in barely lip-readable words, about exactly what she thinks of you when you ask her to stop talking – for the third time – during a quiz.
He’s the one who despite you providing extensive workshop time each day for a week, two one-on-one check-ins with you and daily peer support, turns in nothing on Friday. Zilch.
They are the one who plays innocent when you explain that one’s sleeve and head resting in hand do not an earbuds cover-up make.
I love these students, though that isn’t the point. I love all my students, rain or shine, come what may. When I say I love students who seem to climb on my last little nerve, try my patience when I’ve reached my last shred, engage with me as though they perceive it’s my first rodeo, or otherwise derail my thoughts in the middle of my self-driven narrative of how class should be, I mean not only do I love the student, I am grateful for them. That may sound counterintuitive, but let me explain.
Every time a student disrupts your instructional storyline, that’s when the real teaching happens. Truly, the times when your abilities are tested, stretched, on good days proven, and on tough days broken, are when you have the opportunity to become the next best version of a teacher. You get to reset, rethink, reframe, and in short, teach outside the safety bubble of plans out in the real world where all manner of variable can alter your plans. As any teacher can tell you, it’s one thing to plan a lesson from start to finish, it’s another thing to teach it to anything alive and mobile. These moments are a reminder that we work with individuals; our students have different needs, passions, motivators, hunger levels, sleep depravities, intolerance, focus, and background on any given day. Each class, and each disruption of said class, is an opening for advancing your practice, should you choose to take it.
I’m grateful for these chances to be a better version of myself, though it’s rarely an easy leap. That said, how often are we able to stop and appreciate these chances when they happen? I asked my colleagues for how they best handle these moments and they were all happy to share in the humanity of teaching. We suggest trying a couple of the following, jotting down a few of your own, and most importantly, sharing with others who might be looking for that moment of reconnection with our ability to connect with that kid.
-Taking one big breath. Really big. So big students notice. Then start anew, and keep breathing.
-Calling home. Truly, asking families for help in how to best support their student holds miles of traction. Also, please let the student know you’re calling so it feels like a three-legged stool rather than a two-person side conversation.
-Presume positive (or at least not personal) intent. This is touted frequently, yet how often do we take the time to unpack a situation fully to understand all the different interactions that led to the situation?
-Put a couple mini star stickers around the room. Each time one catches your eye, remind yourself that we are all people in the room, trying to do our best in life in what ways we can. Use that thought to frame your next statement.
-Find yourself tired and hungry, contributors to off moments/days? How many times have you stressed students’ need to get a solid night of sleep and eat a good breakfast? Take your own advice.
-Go for a walk to process. Play some Taylor Swift and physically shake it off. Passers by won’t know what hit them, and you’ll find your mood lifted.
-Debrief the lesson with another teacher, instructional coach, or administrator, someone with whom you feel safe sharing moments of vulnerability. Talk what happened, what you would do if you could go back in time and then Let. It. Go.
-My favorite? Get your class to a workable hum and gracefully invite the student aside and have some truth telling. Call it restorative justice, call it courageous conversations, just have a talk as human beings who sense a disruption and want to dissolve it. Just remember, as the adult you have double duty of participating in the discussion and modeling appropriate behaviors.
The next time that one kid stands out for the seemingly wrong reasons, I hope you’ll treat it as a gift. Address the moment, strengthen the relationship with the student and with your own confidence, and move forward knowing you are rocking your best teacher abilities. Be grateful, knowing that one kid is loved.