This happened yesterday.
One of our teachers came into my office and said, “I’m concerned about one of my students.” When I asked why, he told me that the student had her head down in class and was really not engaging in the lesson. He went over to her and gave her some options — she could re-engage with the class if she was capable, she could go see her co-advisor, go see the counselor or even go to my office and just be, but she couldn’t stay in class unengaged. She left class but didn’t go any of those places, which he quickly realized. He used our SLATE system to send a message of concern to the student, her mom and me. The student has been having a rough go of it lately, and this was, therefore, not the first message that mom has received of late.
The young woman returned to class after being called by her mom and as the teacher checked in with her, she looked at him and said, “Why do all you teachers have to be so [you can imagine the word she used] helpful all the time? Why can’t you just leave us alone?”
Here’s the important part.
The teacher didn’t react in a “How dare you use that language with me?” manner. He didn’t send her to the office. And he definitely did not turn that into a power struggle in the classroom. Instead, he saw a student that he has known for three years as an advisee and a student who was not o.k. and he saw that, in that moment, he was not going to be the adult who was able to breakthrough her anger and get her through the moment. So he came to me.
Not to get her in trouble.
Not to “report” her.
To see if I could help.
That matters. A lot.
So I found her and asked her to come to my office. Needless to say, she thought she was in trouble. Students know they shouldn’t curse out their teachers.
Instead, I told her that her teacher was worried about her and was worried she wasn’t o.k. And I asked her what we could do to help.
And the wall came down. She was having a really lousy day. Nothing earth-shattering, nothing that wouldn’t get better but the kind of day that really makes it hard to be in a classroom because there’s no way you’re going to focus. And we talked about that for a while.
And then I was able to say, “You know, your teacher told me you weren’t o.k. He came to me, not to get you in trouble, but because he was worried about you. And you need to know… you cursed out your advisor and his first reaction was that he was worried you weren’t o.k. He could have gotten all teacher-angry on you, and he didn’t.”
And that was all she needed. She said, “Yeah, that wasn’t o.k., what I did. I need to go talk to him. I need to go apologize. I wasn’t mad at him. That wasn’t right to do that.”
That’s the ball game. It is everything we want.
And it happened because a teacher cared more about his student than he did about his teacher-self.
It happened because a teacher knew that it really does take a village sometimes, and he knew that it was going to take more than one adult to help the student with where she was that day.
It happened because a student was very willing to move past her own defensiveness and see that she wasn’t “in trouble,” but that her behavior hurt someone who cared about her, and that wasn’t o.k. with her.
Mostly it happened because that teacher wasn’t ego-invested in his dominance in the classroom. He saw pain where others might have only seen defiance. He saw a kid he cared about and one he knew cared about him lashing out, and that worried him enough to ask for help.
We can get ego-invested in so many ways in our classrooms… we can fall in love with our own sense of authority. We can fall in love with our ability to be the one to “save” kids who don’t need saving, but just need care. We can fall in love with the bunker mentality — that we and only we can make a difference to the exclusion of the other adults in a child’s life.
He did none of those things, and so a young woman could trust him and could own her own mistake without feeling defensive. And yes, she doubled back to him and apologized completely. She owned that she was wrong, that she treated him poorly and that he didn’t deserve it. And she simply apologized, meant it and told him she would do better.
I am sure that she missed some good course content that day. But I trust that she can catch up. What she — and we — learned that day was every bit as important.
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