There is nothing that can officially prepare you for being a good teacher. No university course, no single certificate or diploma that you can obtain. The fact is, it is a long-term vocation of the heart and mind, which is not at all like running a race or completing an intricate puzzle, something with a definable beginning and end; it’s an ongoing process that requires life-long learning. It never stops. And though there are hundreds upon thousands of handbooks written on the topic, there is no single teaching Bible. But much like the Bible, there are golden rules, morals to be learned, as well as sins to be avoided.
I’m sure that if teaching had a Bible, somewhere near the front, it’d probably have the commandment, “Thou shalt not cry in front of thine students.”.
Today I broke a cardinal rule of teaching. I cried in front of my class of 6th graders.
Let me back up. This is a particularly challenging group of kids. As much as I know that they are not “bad” kids or “lost cases,” many of them are entitled, spoiled, and not accustomed to hearing the word “no” or respecting authority. I could go on and say that they are immature, but I already mentioned that they are 6th graders, so that would be redundant.
But today was a very hard day, as was yesterday for me (when I incidentally cried as well, though this time it was only in a meeting with three other teachers and my principal :-P). Looking back on the 90 minute class and knowing what I am capable of, I honestly don’t know what I could have done much differently. I woke up feeling “unwell,” but managed to make it to school and start the day with right good hope that I could get through the school day in one piece. I know that when I am in a funk, I need to keep busy and keep my routines going.
The writing has been on the wall for some time. As you guys may recall, I posted not too long ago about teaching with depression, and some techniques that had come in handy for me for not totally losing it. I guess my luck ran out.
The class was especially bad today, and 90 minutes is a long time to be doing live theater in front of eleven and twelve year olds who are being rude, obnoxious, and unruly. It is difficult for me to recall what exactly the trigger was that set me off, it’s all kind of a blur for me at this point, but of course it was only in the last five minutes of the class that I lost my bearings.
I was feeling like a downright terrible teacher. A person who was weak and couldn’t even command a shred of respect from a group of some bratty tweens. I felt like I was in the wrong profession, in the wrong place, on the wrong planet. I felt like I had no business trying to be a teacher when I wasn’t even cutting it as a psuedo babysitter.
What can I say? Depression (compounded by stress) plays tricks on your brain.
It wasn’t a sudden flood of tears. Rather it was like a dam that had started to gradually crack and give way at a very inopportune time. I could feel my face turning bright red, my nostrils and eyes began to sting. By this time, there was no way to escape. The first tear started to form and then trickle down the side of my face. And then another from the other eye. And then another. Before I knew it, I had several tears streaming down my face.
One by one, the students stopped what they were doing and all looked at me in surprise. I imagine that for some of them, it was their first time seeing their teacher cry.
“Ms. White, are you okay?” one of them finally asked cautiously.
“Yes, yes, I’m fine,” I told them as my voice cracked. More tears fell, my lips trembled, but still formed a weak, meaningless smile.
I don’t remember exactly when the bell for lunch finally rang, but by then, the damage had been done. I hastily called the school secretary, my voice still trembling and cracking horribly, and asked to take the rest of the day to go home. I grabbed my purse and made a mad dash for the stairs, but not without running into a few faces with concerned expressions.
I took a nap when I got home, and after falling into a deep sleep, awoke with a headache like a remnant of a nasty hangover. Different circumstances, same horrible feeling:
What did I do? What have I done? Oh, f*ck!
It’s not like I was yelling profanities at the kids or dropped my pants or hit one of them in class. It’s not like I did anything unethical or wrong, but man, it sure feels that way.
What tomorrow holds for me at the school, I don’t know, I can’t say. I don’t know how the kids will react when they see me, if I’ve totally gone and lost all respect in their eyes. Or maybe they’ll cut me some slack. Maybe they’ll finally start to look at me as someone whose feelings can get hurt just as much as theirs, that I’m human.
Or maybe not.
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