Mondays that need mulligans
Some days in the classroom are amazing and filled with light bulb moments. Most days in the classroom are largely mundane, filled with small frustrations and triumphs, tiny quellings, and modest encouragements. And then there are the days when your carefully laid plans crumble around you and grasp at the straws of survival as you are painfully reminded of your own fallibility and fragility.
That was today. Well, this morning, anyway. Here's to hoping the afternoon is a better experience.
Now, I could blame the unravelling on a couple of students who are difficult to handle. Certainly they contributed. But they aren't to blame for the complete meltdown of whatever I had going on. I managed to quell and quell accurately through most of the blurting and the purposeful ignorance. My impatience came through my voice a few more times than I would like to admit, particular with my one shouty and soundy kiddo. But no, that wasn't the ultimate destroyer of the morning.
Firstly, I thought I had picked an easy worksheet to segue into the bright and shining worlf of appositives. I chose badly. This led to more than just my purposefully ignorant/blurty kiddo being slightly lost in the wind. I'll have to regroup on that tomorrow.
But it was the "secondly" that was the real derailer, and that was nothing but my fault.
I asked a student to read a sentence in the paragraph in which we were hunting appositives. The sentence contained the word "chrysanthemum," one we haven't reached in spelling, yet; one the student didn't know. Now, this particular student does have a tendency to give up when she hits a word she doesn't know right away, make something up, and keep going. I've been trying to halt her reading long enough at those times to train her to break unfamiliar words apart and conquer them. I'd always done that with simple words before. This word triggered her "I don't know" and *shrug* emergency responses. But I just knew she could pull the word apart by syllables and figure out how to pronounce it. I knew she could. And that led me to the fatal error of the morning: I pushed her through to complete embarrassment and tears. At this point, I tried to encourage her through the breach--and we mostly made it--but I felt like a terrible person by then. This wasn't a two minute struggle. This was a flat-out five minutes of me pushing her beyond where she was willing to go once she felt uncomfortable with the attention from the class. I taxed the self-control reserves of the rest of the class until the least contained giggled quietly, only adding my poor kiddo's disheartened frustration. Finally, we made it through the word, but at what cost? What did I lose for myself and my student today?
The thing is, some days it's really difficult to find the line between actively pushing through a small obstruction the student needs to break down and aggressively steamrolling through a student's self-image and confidence. I crossed that line today and couldn't even tell until it was too late to gather the remnants of my dignity and my student's self-worth and backtrack. I only had eyes for reaching the goal I had established at that moment, so I missed the goal and approach my student needed. It was an abject failure, really.
I did apologize. I told her I was so sorry for embarrassing her--that I had really wanted her to work through it because sometimes she gives up to easily, but that I had gone too far, that I should have stopped and moved on long before I did, and that I should never have embarrassed her like that. But again: what was lost for both of us today? I worry. I worry that I bruised her trust in my safeness, in my classrooms safety. I worry that I harmed her rapport with her peers. I worry that I pushed too hard out of a desperate need to salvage some control of the day and check the box marked "successful obstacle destruction."
Well. Tomorrow is, obligatory Gone with the Wind reference, another day. Tomorrow we come at all the problems again. But tomorrow I will be more sensitive to the lines, the boundaries my students lay for their own protection--for the safety of their self-confidence. Tomorrow, I will face the same blurter, the same soundy and singy kids, but I do hope I will face the struggling child with a more sensitive awareness, less focused on winning the minor battle and more focused on heartening each student who sits in the sphere of my influence.
Teaching is a such a roller coaster since we're all of us, kiddos included, fragile humans struggling to find our way. Today the light-bulb moment was all my own.