Ten Wonderful Things, Part Seven: Looking Problems in the Eye

Another thing on my list of what went right this semester.

#7.  Looking Problems In The Eye

I have slow reflexes.  I am afraid of confrontation.  I want my relationships with my students to be smooth and easy without any special effort on my part.  Disasters come about because of these tendencies of mine.

One disaster that will haunt me forever is James, a student I had a few years ago who almost drove me to quit teaching.  The thought that I would ever have a student like James again made me feel that teaching is impossible.

However, after taking a bit of time off to reassess my commitment to my job, I realized that there will be more students who, if not exactly like James, are at least as difficult.  And I realized that I can learn how to handle them.  Not only that, but learning to handle them is good for me.

In some cases, like that of Khawar, a student relentlessly demands that I handle him.  Because of my slow reflexes and desire to avoid confrontation, such a student is in fact a gift.  I have to deal with him, because otherwise he won’t go away.

A student like Valerie is far more difficult for me.  She had no desire to connect; in fact, her goal was to hide what she was doing, and it was not only up to me to address the situation, but I knew I would meet resistance when I did.  (At least in James’ case, he clearly wanted me to pay attention to him.)  These problems keep me up at night, plotting strategy and practicing monologues and stewing.  I HATE this crap.

One of the greatest revelations of my teaching career, however, is that I have to do this crap.  I have to confront it, I have to walk through it, and once I do, I’ll feel better.  I’ll feel better because I’m not stewing any more, but most of all, I’ll feel better because I’ll know that I did the right thing.  Not that I did it right, necessarily.  But that it was right to do it.  These students need my attention.  They may not like it, and I may not like giving it, but we both need something other than silence.

Looking back at Khawar, Valerie, and other troubles I met with this past semester, I feel pretty satisfied.  There are always a few doubts, but for the first time in…well, maybe the first time ever, I can’t think of anything serious that I left undone.  I probably missed some cues or mishandled some moments, and I certainly don’t think that every single student left my classes feeling validated and inspired.  But when it came to real problems, I did what I could.  Effort, as opposed to solutions, is what I ask of myself, and for this term, I give myself an A.


Previous Wonderful Things:

#6: Rereading

#5: Exceptions

#4: Harry Potter

#3: Early Mornings

#2: Incorrect First Impressions

#1: My IB Students

Image by Andrew C.

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3 responses

  1. I’m not afraid of confrontation, but I don’t like it. So, typically, I will avoid it until I get so angry that I HAVE to handle the situation–and then I handle it in anger. Also not good.

    This year, I’ve really been trying to handle situations calmly and rationally, and remind myself all the while that these are, after all, high school students. High school students often make decisions on impulse and don’t weigh consequences. If I was expecting them to act in a high-minded fashion all the time, I should also expect that they wouldn’t need my guidance as a teacher.

    That said, my rationality in situations often leads me to lay the situation in front of the student and let them see it from a few angles. Then we can discuss their previous choice and the choices they could have made.

    Sometimes the system is successful, and sometimes it isn’t…but my husband reminds me that it’s not up to me to make their decisions for them. And if I did, I would continue an enabling cycle that keeps them from taking responsibility for themselves.

    As for regular relationships–that can be a tough one. Generally, I pay attention to what interests the student, and then make my best effort to bring it up at some point during the school year. At a previous high school, it took me forever to develop a relationship with a boy who really wasn’t impressed with me at all. Then I found out he loved the Denver Broncos (which happens to be my dad’s fave football team). All of a sudden, he was willing to talk to me about papers and classwork, and I wasn’t really sure how we got to that point.

    Surprisingly, almost every education class I took said to keep my personal life out of the classroom, and in some situations, I think that’s best. But a teacher cannot fail to share him/herself and expect the students to be willing to develop relationships with him/her. I guess that’s what my Broncos experience taught me. So now I bond over a mutual love of karaoke, the water and guitar music and hatred over various things. It’s made my relationships one of the more rewarding aspects of my job (not that there aren’t students that worry me. I go home and rant and worry, etc. over a few of them…but that’s another comment for another day).

    • Crystal:

      “…it’s not up to me to make their decisions for them.”

      A friend of mine and I were talking about this the other day – about how RESPONDING is not the same thing as CONTROLLING. For a long time, if I felt that the class dynamic or a particular student was out of my control, I froze up – I hadn’t yet learned that it’s responding, not controlling, that’s essential. We respond, and then we see what happens, and then we respond again. For a long time, I thought the best tactic was not to respond. (Ok, honestly, I didn’t think it was the best tactic; I just didn’t want to put in the necessary effort for anything else.)

      For a long time I have tried to keep my personal life completely out of the classroom, but I’ve relaxed about this a bit, and I find that if students want to know things about me, or if a personal tidbit is more or less relevant to our discussion, students appreciate knowing me a little as a person. A little. There’s a balance that needs to be maintained.

      I always love reading your comments!

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