I Should've Just Stayed Home Today...
By nature, I’m a people-pleaser. It’s a shock I’m even a teacher, or at least a happy one. For some reason, I am able to compartmentalize how peers feel about me versus my students. I don’t think of my students as less than, but I am realistic. I have about 150 students this year, and I know it’s impossible for me to be liked by all 150 of them every day for a 180-day school year. I don’t chase the approvals, I simply do my best to be as fair, consistent, and welcoming as possible; if someone has a difference of opinion with me that day, so be it. However, this compartmentalization did not withstand a moment of piercing conviction that occurred just a few weeks before winter break. This comment sat with me all the way through writing this essay, and its effect will probably continue beyond its posting: “I should’ve just stayed home today.”
A student who sees my class as a welcomed break from the rigor of their schedule and stress of other content areas missed about a week of class due to an illness. Their return came on the heels of a few days of me losing my temper with phones being out at inappropriate times. This student, when they returned, was greeted with shrieks of glee and (masked) hugs from their group of friends who share the class. That was greeted by me hollering for them to get in the Theater for our warm-up game. No welcome back to class; no hey good to see you back! Just me barking instructions topping the gleeful shrieking. Later, during lecture, I barked several “put the phone aways” to several duets of students who insisted lecture was the perfect time for music playing or TikTok-watching. After a grumpy ten minutes or so of musical theatre lecture (Disney section, of all subjects!) this returning-student muttered, just loud enough for me to hear, “I should’ve just stayed home today.” It threw me. I asked if that’s what they said. Without any attitude or disrespect or rise in volume they replied, “yes. I said that.”
This student and I have always gotten along. they do their work, we joke around, nothing out of the ordinary. I asked them to stay after class to explain why they felt that way, honestly thinking it wasn’t me, but perhaps an earlier incident they may have encountered? They admitted it was because of me, how they felt not welcomed in the class even though none of my lambasts were aimed towards them. They said they expected more of me, even on the harder days. They said they loved my class, and respected me as a teacher, but didn’t like how I handled myself that day. I was blown away. Not so much at my behavior and temper, but at the student's maturity in delivering their disappointment to me. My typical people-pleasing feelings should’ve gone right into “fix it, make excuses” mode, but they didn’t. Instead, I heard the student out, explained my frustrations with phone usage, and said that I would do better. I told them that I was glad they didn’t wanting to leave the class. I thanked them for letting me know and told them to have a great rest of their day. I couldn’t stop thinking about the interaction. Almost immediately, I felt…happy. I felt…inspired to do better! I was given a task to do, and that was to be, and harness, the very teacher I wanted to be, as consistently as possible.
I was thrilled that I had created an environment mature enough for a student to approach me as they did and to let me know how I was falling short while allowing me the chance to improve. So I did. I spoke with The Mrs. that night about it, she expecting me to be down in the dumps or upset, but surprised, as was I, when I recited the conversation with a smile. I went back in my catalog of pedagogy books and podcasts and remembered, “Always assume the best of your students.” Even with phones, music, interruptions, class clown behavior, just assume the best. Assume they want to learn, that they want to be treated fairly, and that they want consistent, fair rules that everyone is held to. I brought that assumption into class the next day, and I felt better. So much better. I thanked the student during our mask break and asked if they’d be comfortable with me calling them out (positively) and myself out (for improvement) so the class would feel comfortable knowing that they may approach me with praises and concerns like this student did. The student consented to me calling them out in this positive way. The class and I had a great discussion about their behavior and mine. The class mainly admitted that while they always want me to be happy, they owned up to their own misbehavior and understood my frustration. It was a mutually deprecating conversation that bonded us in a way I hadn’t yet experienced with a class.
While I certainly want my students to be able to advocate and self-check if it should be a stay-at-home day (physical illness, mental health day, etc.) I also want them to enter my classroom knowing they are safe, they are welcomed, they are going to learn, and that they have a teacher who loves teaching, not just his content area but loves teaching students. Sometimes a student call-out is just what the doctor ordered. I’d like to say it’s been perfect since then, but my nose would grow like Pinocchio's. However, do I approach that class with a little more “assumption of their best?” Absolutely. Do they meet my expectations every day? They certainly do. I’m rewarded when my students are excited to come to class, and that’s the feeling I’m going to keep chasing.