Think about your teaching and the most difficult situations you have experienced. Very likely these have been discipline problems or parent concerns. Have you noticed that you have dealt with some of these problems with ease, while others have simply gotten you “out of your skin”?
If you think about it, all situations that get you out of your skin have one attachment behind it. You have taken things personally.
As a result, now you are in pain instead of professionally looking into the problem. Instead of having a good judgement, you are taking on the negativity of the situation.
The biggest mistake I’ve made as a teacher is exactly that. Taking things personally when difficult situations arise!
Here are my teacher confessions.
We learn from our mistakes…
One of these frustrations I remember happened during my third year of teaching.
At the time I was building a new music program with small number of students. Parents were very supportive and appreciative of my work.
I had one little girl whose parents were enthusiastic about her playing an instrument. They would rave about the program and show their support. Until that same girl got a bit older, felt more comfortable with the surroundings and started talking too much.
My prompts to good behavior did not have an effect. I called mom and let her know. The result was quite unexpected at the time. The mom came back for a parent meeting. She let her child know that she was a very good kid regardless of the situation. Then she told me that “I need to lead by example”. I am still trying to figure out what that meant…
The communication with that parent in the months to come became more and more tense. There were quite a few uncomfortable remarks along the way. I remember excusing myself after a parent meeting to go to the ladies room…and cried without being seen.
In the years to come I realized that this was a valuable lesson to learn about the way to handle a difficult issue with a parent and script the phone call in a way that this situation does not happen. In later years, and not before falling flat on my face a few more times, I wrote this post on scripting a phone call home.
But there was a different issue in the story…
Had I been calm and able to look at the situation as an outsider, I would have found a better way to deal with that parent. I would have not been hurt by her expression of emotions.
The real problem? I had bonded with that class. I cared about this little girl. I got attached to the parents being supportive, not the other way around. As a result, I simply put too much personal energy into it. My personal feelings and disappointment lead to more hurt instead of stepping back and assessing the situation.
Communicating with parents is a skill that needs to be learned. Often the hard way. Ten years after the story above, I have learned that every time I have been able to step back, the problem had resolved itself. Either through better communication on my side or though the student or parent getting over their negative emotions and looking at the situation more objectively.
Teaching is never just about the work. It is never just about the content. When the bonds between student, parents and their teacher lead to positive experiences, the reward from teaching is amazing.
However, when negative situations arise, the BEST advice I have is to step back and look at the situation objectively. It is never about you! In most cases there is something else going on in the story. The time of difficult parent or student situations is is also time to step back and very carefully analyze the situation and what is best approach for it.
So…enjoy every single moment you feel you are touching a child’s life! this is what makes our profession different! Continue to develop strong relationships within your program. However, know that in most cases if a problem happens, it is most likely not about you!
For more posts on teacher struggles and confessions see here
For tips on communicating with parents effectively see here