Thursday, October 25, 2012

One Of The Greatest Lessons I Ever Learned

My circumstances for entering administration from the classroom were fairly unique.  I resigned my teaching post at a middle school midyear and took over an assistant principal position that had opened due to a termination in a different district.

The school I worked at was a fairly tough urban school which certainly had it's share of problems.  The number of students who came from crappy home lives certainly made up the majority.  I was hard teacher, a rule enforcer, and I didn't take a lot of crap (in retrospect, I wish I done many things differently).  Over time administration started giving me more and more behavior kids. I assumed this was because I could handle them.

I was also the school's boys basketball coach.  As a result of this role, there were frequent days where the team would have to leave before the end of the school day to get to our travel destination on time.  This often meant I would miss my last class or two of the day and be replaced with a substitute teacher.  Every time I would announce to the class that I would be absent the next day because of coaching and they'd have a sub, the whole class would cheer.  Obviously, I was not a well liked teacher.

So, on the Monday that I announced that the coming Friday would be my final day as their teacher...that it would be the final day I would be in the halls to yell at them to get to class... that I wouldn't be back next year... that I would be gone forever... I expected a huge celebration to begin.  But it didn't.

Those punk junior high aged kids were silent.  A few began to cry.  I was unprepared for this.  I had prepared my own ego to brace itself for the reaction of joy when I announced I was leaving.  I never considered it from the other side.

I wasn't an unpopular teacher.  Kids just don't often have the emotional maturity at that age to let it be known otherwise.  At the end of a school year kids are excited to be out, assume you'll be back next year, and they'll at some point see you again.  There's closure.  This was different.  Not only was it made clear as I announced to each class throughout the day that the students were upset by my decision, it also became increasingly apparent that particularly in this community, I had just become another adult to walk out them.  I hadn't lived up to my end of the bargain.  Many of these kids were used to their parents being deadbeats, but their teacher?  That wasn't supposed to happen.

On my final day, virtually everyone of my roughly 150 8th graders returned to my room after the last bell of the day to give me a hug or shake my hand- many of them with tears in their eyes.  It was an extremely heavy life moment and one that wasn't wasted on me.  I did matter as a teacher.  Through all the bull shit initiatives, the classroom management battles, the boring lessons I taught with not enough creativity, my students still appreciated me being their teacher.  I didn't realize it until I only had five days left as a classroom teacher.  I was lucky to have this unique moment.  I wonder how many teachers go through their entire career never aware of their importance.        

As I've moved through my career, I've learned to no longer react to what comes out of an upset child's mouth, and I try to remember this with my own children.  I urge all of you who are educators, coaches, or parents to try and remember it as well. Kids deserve that much.

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