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Emotions as a Teacher

Photography of Whale Tail On Water Surface

This is a tough time of year for me. The dates carry a lot of loss. They carry gratitude and joy and love for those who cannot meet me for coffee. And the dates carry losses that can feel weighty and hard to see through.

But, along with the stuff of life, we teachers must be present, be patient, give from our depths.

It’s difficult.

My husband had never really known a teacher before he met me. As we got to know each other, he was surprised that I enjoy wine, that I use four-letter-words, and that I have days where my patience is gone, and I’m rude. He thought we were super human and only existed as teachers.

I know you can relate.

But, it’s not other people’s perceptions we need to undo as much as our own.

Yes, teaching is a job that requires continuous deliberate thought and action. A careless comment could really stick with a student. A frustrated outburst might set off all kinds of alarms. A lack of attention could miss an important moment.

But, yup, we have our lives too. Sometimes we are dealing with grief, with anger, with the stuff of life. And we need to walk into our classrooms full of noticing humans and be present.

It is really difficult.

But, as much as we would forgive our students for struggling, we must find space and care and forgiveness for ourselves when we go through it.

So first- we must allow it in ourselves. “I am having a tough day.” “I will not be my best today.” “I will consider getting to the other side of the day success.” “This might be a worksheet day.” “I will not be able to be as present today.”

Next, figure out how to get through the day. Find a space you can go cry, a park to take a walk during your short lunch break, an office where you can close the door. (Even a 15 minute walk is a relief- in a place where you do not need to be an example to anyone). Being on show is wearing, particularly on a sad day. (My last school took the staff room and made it a place where students were consistently walking through. I don’t think they understood what they took. The adult bathroom down the hall became my quick spot to cry- not ideal, but it was a closed space.) Find a way to give yourself a break from the show- worksheets and independent work can be a real relief and even a useful change of pace.

And, have faith in your students. Now matter their age, they will both accept and rise to you having a difficult day. When I became a more confident human, I would tell my students that I was having a tough day, and I’d need a little more understanding, maybe more effort, maybe some quiet during our time together. I am telling you, 5-year-olds, 5th-graders, teens- they get it.

Again, students are awesome. They have seen you give them that space, and they will rise to it. Sometimes I shared more about what I was going through (for example, when my sweet dog, Txako, died). More often I did not share with them. But, kids have the capacity to be awesome- to be understanding, to be mature, to be thoughtful and step up when we cannot. We don’t always let them lead- and it’s pretty awesome to see them rise into the space of it.

Yes, you have permission to be human.

Yes, students are awesome, and they will rise.

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