And then they break your heart…

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by CarbonNYC
In my last post, I felt it necessary to share my thoughts on handling students in turmoil. One of my points was to not take the actions of our students personally as it often has nothing to do with us.

Sometimes I finish a post and then realize some things are much easier said than done, and often far more grey than they are black and white. Life has a way of throwing things back in your face and that definitely happened to me.

It is easy to say “Don’t take it personally” but it is impossible to actually do completely. We care about our students. We go the extra mile for them. We spend our own time coaching their teams or directing their plays. We spend our own money making sure our classrooms have everything they need. We plan extravagant and thought-provoking lessons for them. We do everything it takes to make sure their experience in our classrooms is a rewarding and life changing one. And then they throw it back in our face…

AHHHHHHHHHHH! Ok so it wasn’t THAT bad, but trust me I learned my lesson a mere one day after that post. I found an AMAZING documentary to show to my students, about a group of young brothers who travel the world and “Through one on one interviews and real life encounters, the brothers are awakened to the beauty of the human person and the resilience of the human spirit.” It is a great film that really speaks to the ideas of altruism and volunteerism and really gives you perspective on how lucky we are to have what we have and to live where we live. I was very excited to have my students see this film and experience its message, and I was really hoping to have one of those lessons during which the teaching transcends curriculum and really gets to the idea of humanity. Not so much…

About 20 minutes into the movie, 80% of the students were involved in their own conversations, stealthily (or so they thought) using their cell phones, throwing things around the room, sleeping or simply tuned out. I tried a couple times to refocus them but it wasn’t happening. I was crushed. I had previewed the film, found myself at times in awe, other times in tears, and was moved by having seen it. I was so excited about the impact it would have on my students, and they acted like I just showed them a 1950’s black and white film on photosynthesis. I couldn’t help but take this hard, as my anticipation and enthusiasm was at an all time high. Funny how only one day earlier I had the audacity to tell everyone not to take things personally and yet here I was beside myself with my students.

Now I am no idiot, I know that this wasn’t a collective effort to try and drive Mr. McLean to early retirement. I know these students did not have me in mind when they ignored the film and spent time on other less productive endeavors. I misread the impact the film would have on them. I was wrong about how they would react to its content. I am sure some were turned off by having to reflect on how good they have it when others have it so rough. I know others may have been burned out by previous classes, by the events of their lives outside of school or their relationships with family or peers. But, it doesn’t mean it isn’t hard to take.

This timely reminder has made me reconsider my earlier statement and rephrase it this way…

TRY not to take things personally when kids treat us like garbage, because the more of your time, energy, enthusiasm and interest you give to your students, the more you open yourself up to experiencing difficult days and situations that feel like you have had your heart ripped out of your chest and stomped on by adolescent feet in skateboard shoes… to vent  little.

You want to be a caring, compassionate, dedicated and electric educator that gives everything he/she has to their students? Great! You will be a testament to the profession and change the lives of young people throughout your career. BUT, if you do, you have to remember that sometimes they won’t respond to your kindness and dedication the way you would expect them to. They will break your heart, but they’ll come back the next day and put it back together. That’s life as an educator, and its hard, but its also pretty great.



7 thoughts on “And then they break your heart…

  1. Anybody can teach the “easy” kids. Great teachers are the ones that can connect and impact the ones that aren’t so easy. We all have days like this, but you are right that it should not be taken personal. We reassess what we have done, try to figure out how to do it better, and then put it into action. Isn’t that what learning is about?

  2. What a great post, and how very true too! It’s funny: I was talking to another teacher that I work with about something very similar not that long ago. I remember earlier in the year when one of my students had a really difficult time at the end of the day. The two of us talked just before the day ended, and the student left upset, and I felt upset as a result too. I hate it when a child leaves sad. Just as I was thinking about what I could do tomorrow to start again, and make for a good day, the same child saw me in the hall, came running up to me, gave me a big hug, and said, “Goodbye Miss Dunsiger!” Wow! No, the day didn’t end the way that either one of us wanted it to, but we both moved on from there, and as you said in your post, my heart was definitely “put back together again.” Thank you for reminding all of us about the importance of this, and also about the importance of reflection, so that we can make things better the next day!


  3. Thanks so much for this reminder – we need to be constantly aware that it is not us that they are rebelling against..rather the authority…soooooo do you think the documentary would be good for my Year 8 boys class? 😉

  4. I enjoyed this post, Jesse, as it really hit home for me. I have had my heart ripped out and stomped on from time to time, by some amazing (challenging but still amazing) kids who I would go to the moon and back for. They are the kids who have the uncanny ability to make me question myself, my skill, my efforts to make a difference, as they are the ones I invest so much time and energy in trying to reach. It’s tough to find the balance between keeping the “teflon coating” on so that things can slide off while at the same time, keeping my heart open to connecting at a deeper level with those hard to reach and teach kids. For me, getting my heart stomped on from time to time, and taking it very personally, reminds me about how much I care about these kids (even if they don’t seem to know or care how much I care). These intensely personal connections to the kids and the school makes the job more than a job…and always keeps me from thinking about early retirement!!!!! Thank you for reminding me about this.

  5. Ha, great post! As a first year teacher I completely understand the feeling. Days like these are the days where reflective teachers have massive advantages. Reflective teachers learn so much from these experiences. We go home and think about went wrong, we change the lesson, we make it better, we grow, learn, and develop as teachers. Yes we take it personally and that hurts a lot. However, it is because of this pain that we become amazing teachers.

  6. Jesse-
    This was a wonderful post. Tonight I attended the wedding of a student I taught when he was in 9th grade (about 7 years ago), and I was really thinking of this notion, of the importance of taking the super-extra-long view when working with children as an educator (or parent!).

    In Judaism, educating a child is described as a dual process: “Planting and Building.” (See book on topic ) We have an obligation to the plant the seed, to show the child what is out there, what we value as a community, etc. But, as any gardener knows, seeing the results takes time.

    When alumni return to school and thank me for their 9th grade experience, it reminds me that we are in it for the long haul.

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