The day that changed everything

I know, I know, it’s been weeks since my last post. I just reread that post, and realized that things changed dramatically over the course of the remaining weeks of my long-term position. The position ended about a week ago, but I was kept on as a building sub, so I am at the school every day. It’s a great position, because I don’t have to wonder each day if I will be subbing, and if so, where I will be. The teacher I replaced will be gone again for about a month in February, and I am looking forward to being back in my classes.

You read that correctly. After my ranting post, and continual head bashing with the students, I finally came to the conclusion that I had better lighten up. One of the essentials of being an effective teacher is an ability to be flexible and to be open to change. Without a revamp of my attitude, I was going to end up either totally burned out, or locked away in a mental hospital.

The day after I came to this conclusion, I went into class with a different attitude. The student I had been in conflict with almost immediately commented, “You’re in a really good mood today!” to which I responded, “I decided I’d better not be grumpy, because when I’m grumpy it makes you guys grumpy, too.” I would love to say that it was all smooth sailing from there, but it never is compeletely smooth. That’s okay, because that’s part of teaching. Things were much more comfortable in the classroom, however. I lightened up, and so did the students.

We joked around more. I made sure I asked them nicely to do things, even though the instinct was to just tell them to do it. Please and thank-you will get you everywhere with teenagers. Unbelievable! They don’t often say it to me, but my courtesy to them significantly improved their attitudes.

The girl I spent a couple weeks fighting didn’t stop talking in class. She didn’t suddenly put in enough effort to pass. She did share with me, and the rest of the class, that she nearly died from doing tainted drugs.

Wow. That hit me. Hard. All I could think about for the rest of that day is how horrible it would be to come to school and discover that one of my students had died due to drug use. It sat very heavily on my heart, so I asked one of the experienced teachers in the department what he would do. He suggested giving her a card that let her know I was concerned. I did this, and gave it to her the next day after class. The day after I gave it to her, she came up to me before class and gave me a hug and told me how much it meant to her. She said, “You’re the only one. None of my other teachers did anything. I don’t think they really care.” I know they do, but there isn’t always time to reach every troubled student.

That was the real change. She didn’t stop talking in class, and she was still disruptive. But she treated me with respect. She started coming to my classroom during the last period of the day, because that was when I had a prep period. As a teacher, I am supposed to make her do work then. I didn’t. I just let her talk. I discovered over the course of our conversations that her Mom doesn’t get to spend time with her very often due to divorce agreements. I don’t know the circumstances behind it, but I do know that teenage girls desperately need a female adult in their lives. I became an adult that she can trust.

Teaching is only about ten percent content area. I am a counselor, a confidante, and sometimes a mom to my kids. That’s the true measure of my success in the classroom. The students are my kids, young adults about whom I care greatly, and I miss them. Six weeks ago, I questioned whether I really should be teaching. Now I know that it is what I am supposed to be doing. There are days that are exhausting, both physically and mentally. It’s never easy, but it is rewarding. I want to be one of those teachers that kids come back to see five years later, just so they can tell me what they are doing in life. Thanks to some truly awesome colleagues, I think I’ll get there.

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