December 4 2012

The day I lost it.

I’m pretty level-headed, usually. I get comments a lot, from one class in particular, that I always have a smile on my face. In fact, they will do a countdown if I’m not smiling, to see how many seconds I can last (usually, as soon as I realise what they are doing,I start laughing, so they rarely get above 3!!) The whole “don’t smile before Easter” thing doesn’t work in my classroom – let’s face it, I can’t even make it till the end of roll call most days! It’s one of the things I’m proud of about the way I interact with students in my classroom – I’m fair, I’m reasonable, and I don’t do the whole ‘teach by fear and intimidation’ thing that works for some people. I talk with them. I listen. Most days, we have a fairly positive and productive air of communication in my class.

Today was not one of those days. Well, not last period, especially. And it’s not because something big or dramatic happened. Not at all. It’s more the cumulative effect of lots of little things, both personally and professionally, that added up to me being on my last straw when I walked in to year 7 after lunch. I held it together for a few minutes, but then a particularly difficult kid, who I work really hard with, completely ignored me when I asked him to grab a book for reading. Then, he walked away. I know, tough right? No swearing, no fighting, no throwing of chairs …. Just a little mild ignorance. And I lost it. Yelled at them all to “sit down, stop talking, and just read already, for goodness sake we’ve only been doing this all year you think you’d have it by now!!” And I cried. Whilst they sat there reading totally silently, for probably the first time all year, I sobbed silent tears of frustration. Tears of disappointment in myself, of anguish that I’d let myself be one of those teachers I always said I NEVER wanted to be. In fact, I have tears streaming down my cheeks now as I’m writing about it.

As they read, or at least did a fantastic job of pretending they were, I could see the shock on some of their faces. I sat there, crying, breathing, and wondering how on earth I got to that point over something so relatively minor, when everyday events that are often much worse don’t seem to faze me. And I can only imagine what they were thinking. What they were feeling. What they were saying to themselves about that stranger who had just roared at them from the front of the room. And to be honest, that just made me cry a bit more. You know those people who look adorable when they cry? Dewy eyes, slightly rosy cheeks, sweet and lovely that you just want to hug? I’m not one of those. Bullfrog puffy eyes and blotchy skin, that’s me. Like the poor kids hadn’t suffered enough, they have 45 more minutes to put up with that.

So, I did the only thing I could think of. The only thing that seemed reasonable in the circumstance. I apologised. I apologised for taking out on them all the things that were not their fault. I apologised for letting whatever is stressing me outside our classroom impact on what is supposed to be a safe place for them. I apologised that I had ended their day with anger, and tears, and getting to see me at what is quite possibly my worst. I apologised unreservedly. No mention of the couple of little comments and actions from a couple of students that had pushed me over the edge. No justification as to why it was even just a little bit ok. I apologised, and then I cried a little more.

And then they smiled. Not because they were happy I was crying again, but because, I suspect, they had their safe place back. Their comments and actions over the rest of the lesson were telling.
“I’ve never seen you like that before Miss, you made 10 whole minutes without smiling. I wanted to cry for you.”
“Miss check out the dragon I’m doing in art. What do you think of the scales? Every cool story needs a good dragon huh.”
“Hey miss, want a tissue? You can keep it, I don’t want it back.”
The boy who just stood next to me, moved a bit of paper on the desk in front of me, said “hey”, then sat back down with a wistful grin on his face.
The girl who kept avoiding eye contact with me, but was constantly looking at me out of the corner of her eye, and then walked the whole way around the room just so she could walk past my desk and say “see you tomorrow Miss, hope you have a better afternoon.”
The notes written on my mini dry-erase boards … “English rocks” “Rodgers 😃” “We love you Miss!!!”

So, how am I feeling now? I’m exhausted. I’m frustrated and angry at myself, that I let things that really have no relation to what I do in my classroom impact on what I’ve worked really hard to establish as a positive, supportive and great space to be. All it took was about 13 seconds of a raised voice to undo all that. Thank goodness it wasn’t permanent, and I’m trying to console myself with the idea that perhaps my vulnerability, my apology, and my attempts to make amends may have been the modelling that some of them may have needed when they are dealing with some stressful and difficult situations of their own. But right now, that isn’t making me feel any better about it. I’m going to finish this post, then go and soak in a bath, and not look at anything at all work related for the rest of the night. Nope, not even my emails. I have a PD session tomorrow – I’m very glad I don’t have my yr7 class on my timetable, I’d hate for them to think that I didn’t come in because of what happened today. And when I go back on Thursday, to a fairly exhausting and stressful day, I’m going to remind myself to breathe. I’m going to remind myself of what is important to me, and what I value about what I do. I’m going to try and remember to be as kind to myself as I am to others. I don’t know that I deserve it, especially after today, but I think I need it … and maybe that’s the same thing?

This song is going to be my mantra … “Keep your head above water, and don’t forget to breathe.” I hope you are breathing ok too. Take care of you, you’re worth it.

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Posted December 4, 2012 by Tamara Reads in category Ponderings on Education

About the Author

She/her. On Whadjuk Noongar land. NSWPRC Officer, Teacher Librarian, English teacher and social media advocate. I've been teaching in Western Sydney for my entire teaching career, and love my job more than I love Neil Gaiman. (That's a lot, in case you're wondering!) I stalk authors (but always politely), fangirl over books, and drink coffee. And one of my guilty prides about my children is that they all have favourite authors. All opinions are my own.

4 thoughts on “The day I lost it.

  1. Bon

    Oh Honey, don’t be so hard on yourself, they know it’s a safe place or they would not have reacted the way they did, all you did was show them that you are human, you have moments and that’s ok, everyone has moments its what you do with them and in reaction to them and I think you did just fine.

  2. Mez

    Tamara,Don’t beat yourself up about it. You have shown them that you are human plus you have the ability to apologize, which sometimes takes a lot of effort in it’s self. The note said it all did it not. English rocks & they love you.
    You are an amazing teacher & person to boot. Hugs to you. I tell you what if you are a good girl you can have a few weeks of to recuperate over Christmas.

  3. Deborah Moore

    Wow Tamara! I think we are ALL feeling like you at the end of the year! You have inspired me to apologize to ALL my classes before the end of school!!! I have been very cranky this week….. And you are right, it’s nothing the kids have done, just our tolerance levels are down! Hope you have an awesome end of week/year…. And remember … U R AWESOME :))


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