21 December 2012

One Bad Experience

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Listening to the Enough Podcast Episode 180 I was reminded of an Oatmeal comic that refers to how people react when they receive negative criticism online and I think it also relates to education. The comic (near the end) mentions that if 1,000 people online love your work you feel like everyone on the Internet loves you and if 1,000 people love your work and 1 person hates your work then everyone on the Internet hates you. Unfortunately, I think teachers sometimes do the exact same thing.

I'm just coming off of parent-teacher conferences and it was a mostly positive experience. I had a number of parents tell me their children love my class and what is being taught. They also expressed appreciation for what I am doing as a teacher. I was even told one of my students was 'studying' me because she wants to be a teacher and she likes what I am doing.

I don't mention these things to make myself sound amazing, but to bring home a point that the majority of my conferences were very positive. Even parents who weren't super happy with everything, most were able to recognize their children's growth and were happy they were happy. But like the Oatmeal cartoon, I had one experience that was really negative and it threw me for a loop.

I had a parent tell me they were so upset by my procedures that they were going to pull their child out of my class and there was nothing I could do about it. Without fully understanding why certain things happened, they chose to side 100% no-questions-asked with their 4th grader.

I was so upset and bothered by the lack of trust my whole weekend was turned upside down. I was difficult to be around. I was mopey. And I was acting completely unreasonable. I was letting one unhappy parent let me forget about the other 25+ happy parents. I was preparing for the absolute worst-case scenario and it was crazy.

I let one negative situation outweigh the many positives and was being unrealistic. When I mentioned it to a colleague they told me to not worry about it and consider it a blessing the kid would be gone from my class so I didn't have to deal with the parents again. But yet, I couldn't let it go.

As educators, many of us are too hard on ourselves and too critical of our abilities. I think that comes from caring about our students like they are our own. We need to recognize that we will have negative experiences with parents and students alike, but that we can't stop seeing the positive that goes on. The next time you're faced with some negativity, please take a minute and think back on all the positive moments you've had in your time in the classroom.

So what happened with my disgruntled parent? It turns out their spouse helped calm them down and even came in to talk with me about the situation. The final decision, both parents and the student want everything to remain as it is and not make any changes. All of that negativity and it turns out it was a false alarm. Yet another reason to not let yourself get so worked up about negative remarks.

17 December 2012

Missed Opportunity

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While filling my car with gas the other night, I was witness to a situation that has haunted my dreams a little ever since. I watched a woman fighting with her partner and then start walking away while the partner drove off.

This may not seem too intense, but this particular gas station is about a seven-minute drive to town and it was also raining. What made things worse was that as I was watching, trying to decide if I should help or not, the woman was getting angry at those of us watching the situation unfold and she started yelling at us. I felt helpless. I wanted to offer her a ride yet, didn't dare because I didn't want to upset her anymore. So I did as she wanted and left her alone. Pulling out of that gas station and driving the other direction, my heart was breaking.

Sometimes teaching feels the same way. We have students who act tough and don't want our help, but deep-down NEED our help. How do we respond to those situations? Do we just ignore them and let them wallow in their anger, or do we go against their wishes and find a way to help them?

I may never see that woman from the gas station again in the flesh, but I will never forget the scene with her walking away in the cold, rainy night as I drove the other way. I don't ever want that same feeling at the end of the school year thinking back on my students and what could have been.

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