Each of us can tell stories about the amazing teachers we had growing up and the impact they had on our lives. As parents, we can do the same for awesome, life changing teachers our kids had, or have during their time in K-12 education. Today I’d like to tell a story about the opposite, or so I thought.
It was my 4th grade year. As a young kid growing up in central Wyoming I focused very hard on my academics. Not really, I actually cared a lot about playing sports in the street with the kids in the neighborhood, watching the Broncos on tv, and recess. I was a normal 9 year old. I picked on my sisters, they returned the favor. But my 4th grade year at school was anything but normal.
Until I was in 4th grade, I was, upon reflection, working in the higher end of my classes. I got my work done quickly, didn’t get many things wrong, and enjoyed learning. But in 4th grade, my work began to suffer. I often received papers back from my teacher with red marks, negative comments, and little to no explanation as to why. I stopped being the first one to turn things in when she told me I should slow down because that’s why my work is so bad. She was short with me, got angry with me more than the other kids. At least that’s what I thought. My mom and dad were a little concerned after parent conferences, as the teacher had told them I got frustrated easily, didn’t do my work, and was not ‘happy’ at school. When I started pretending to be sick just so I didn’t have to go to school, my mom finally decided it was time to find out what was going on.
You might suspect I had a learning disability, some form of illness, or even that something bad had happened to me. From my vantage point, my teacher hated me, singled me out, and that was my problem. I had always loved school and that was no longer the case. My mom had several meetings with that teacher, as well as the principal. Eventually, mom told me the teacher would work harder to support me and that she really didn’t ‘hate’ me. I survived that 4th grade year but often looked back on it as a big challenge for me.
Many years later, I mentioned that 4th grade year while talking with my mom. She finally told me the whole story, and it changed my perspective for ever. It turns out my 4th grade teacher’s son, of whom I reminded her a great deal, had taken his own life shortly before my 4th grade school year began. She was angry with him, hurt, and devastated in a way no parent ever should have to be. She had no idea she was taking that anger out on me, projecting her feelings for her son in my direction. As I look back on that year now, I know she really did make a great effort with me. Honestly, I know she loved me just as much as any other child in the room. I thank her for that experience, as tough as it was, because it makes me a better educator now. You see, you can never truly know what other people are carrying around inside of them. We don’t know what our students lives are like when they leave the walls and grounds of the school just as adults we have no idea what might be weighing on the mind of the person at the grocery store, the person who delivers packages to our door, or even the teacher working with our kids. I learned so much about understanding, compassion, and self-awareness in 4th grade – a whole lot more than I did about math, science, or any other lesson that was intended. In a world often too quick to judge, I hope perhaps others can learn from this lesson as well.
Enjoy your holidays everyone – #RoadToAwesome