Going into my first year of teaching, I knew that it would be physically and mentally demanding. But what I hadn’t braced myself for was how emotionally demanding this profession would be as well. In the past nine months that I have been teaching, I have never before experienced such extremes in anger, frustration, desperation, and hopelessness. And yet, the good somehow always outweighs the bad. I look for those good moments everyday because they keep me going.
I had a fifth grade class yesterday that quite frankly made me feel like I was embodying resentment. As soon as it was over, I had to release all of my anger in a private blog post riddled with profanity. I later vented to my colleague and she vented to me (and then a bunch of us went out for drinks and ice cream and we all felt better).
What sent me into torrent of anger was the sense of entitlement my students had. They expect to be entertained and they believe that my job is to please them. They made me feel like I was unreasonable and a horrible teacher because I decided to have them play a vocabulary game instead of a mindless game of 4 corners (which has absolutely nothing to do with our unit).
They started saying things like, “This game is stupid!” “I don’t want to do this” “This is boring” “Can we play 4 corners???” “I’m not playing”.
At this point, I had to bite my tongue to keep myself from screaming bloody murder at them. I calmly explained that we’re doing this game to help them learn their vocabulary and to practice listening in French.
Well it was like fighting tooth and nail to get them participating. Some were pouting and making faces because they didn’t want to play and others talked the entire time even when I repeatedly told them stop talking. I had a handful of students who were actually participating and wanting to play (thank God for these kids).
Honestly though, I was furious at the end of that class. Never in my life had I been so angry at so many people.
I knew what I had to do. I had to sit them down and tell them honestly how they made me feel.
And that was exactly what I did today.
I explained to them that it really hurt my feelings when they said the things that they said. I told them that everything I do is for them and that I want them to learn and to become better at French (I asked if they knew that, and they all sullenly responded “Yes.”). I told them that I will sometimes make mistakes and sometimes my classroom management isn’t stellar – but that’s because I’m learning and after all, it’s my very first year of teaching. I told them that I respect all of them and that I need them to be respectful to me too. I ended with a “Does that sound fair?” And they said again very solemnly, “Yes.”
The rest of that class went by without a single hitch.
What have I learned in this experience? It is that I need to be completely honest with my students with my feelings. I can’t let them get away with their sense of entitlement. I need to let them see that I have feelings too and let them see things from my perspective. Having these heart to heart talks is intimidating (I almost felt nauseous before class today), but they are so essential. Kids need to know their teachers are as human as they are.
These kids aren’t bad. They are very sweet – but somewhere along the way, they got it into their heads that I am their entertainer. And I had to rectify that.