“Some people come in our life as blessings. Some come in your life as lessons.” ― Mother Teresa
Teachers are my heroes. They put up with more for less than most other humans in the hope that what they do makes a difference. If I could do it all over again I’d still choose teaching at the tender age of 45 years old. I’m fairly certain my students gave me more life lessons than I ever gave them. Tolerance, acceptance, patience, are just a few of the things that I learned along the way, and sometimes I learned them the hard way.
I had a student years ago who was in one of my civics classes with 12 students in it. He was one of the most annoying kids I had ever met. He was in a lower level class, some had IEP’s and some did not. The ones who did not have an IEP had IQ’s in the range of 90 or so. They all struggled in school forever. By the time I had them in the 10th grade they had built up their defenses, their fuck you’s and up yours to each other were frequent and quiet. They thought I couldn’t hear them. With only 12 in the class they were always in ear shot of me but they never seemed to realize it or maybe they did and that was their challenge to me. To the degree that it was possible I ignored their profanity because if I didn’t I’d have to send them to the office and they wouldn’t have a chance at learning. If I sent them to the office every time I heard a ‘bad’ word I’d have no kids left in the class some days though a time or two it crossed my mind to do just that.
There are times we lose our patience as teachers. We are asked a thousand times the same thing. Or the same student is late, again, and again, to class. As a high school teachers we can have a hundred or more kids we teach every day, five days a week. Some of my colleagues, to help pay the bills, also teach at night. Ninety-nine percent of the time they have amazing patience, and every once in a while they don’t and when they don’t, when they lose it, they take a beating for it either from others or from themselves.
This one most annoying student tended to be rude and disrespectful to me, and to others in the class. He almost never passed a test, never did his homework, blatantly cheated and often nodded off during lessons. It was a first period class. I’d really had it with him, and totally lost my patience with his attitude one day, not a proud moment but a human one. I don’t remember if it was my second or third year of teaching. It was easy to imagine leaving the profession. In fact I daydreamed about it on my hour drive in each day that semester.
With nothing left to lose I changed my teaching style up. I started each class with a question: In the last 24 hours what is something good that happened that you can share with us? No negatives were permitted. After a week or so this teenage boy raised his hand and said his momma bought him his first mattress, his first bed that was up off the floor and he didn’t have to share it with his siblings. Humbling. It wasn’t my last moment like this as a teacher but it was my first. I judged his poor behavior unfairly without taking into consideration that all I knew about him was wrapped up in 90 minutes a day 5 days a week. I knew nothing about his life up until that moment, then I knew all I needed to know.
I share this story not because I did something great for this student, in fact, quite the opposite, it was what I learned from him that was so impactful in my life. Sometimes I forget this lesson and quotes like Mother Theresa’s that I started off this post with remind me of the lesson I learned so long ago.
Who was your lesson in life?