Friday, May 6, 2011

Week 29: The Crying Game

If you’re a elementary school teacher who has never made a kid cry, either you haven’t been teaching for very long or you aren’t being a great teacher. That may be an exaggeration but it’s kind of the truth.

Sometimes when my students cry in my presence it has nothing to do with things I’ve said or done but other times I’m not so sure. What most teachers do in these kinds of situations is consider if it’s sometimes that he or she has done before looking for other reasons for the tear.  This is an important instinct, however it can make things a little rough because the reality is that often it’s not your fault and that’s hard to recognize and reconcile when you a kid that you are talking to burst out into tears.

I remember the first student I “made” cry. She was a fourth grade French horn player. I was student teaching and my mentor teacher let me teacher her private lesson. We were working on playing high notes. She tried to play a note a couple times without playing it clearly and then she got it. I was really excited for her looked over to her book and pointed to that note and asked her to play the note again. Instead of hearing the note, I hear soft sobs. I looked over to her and she was crying exclaiming to “It’s so hard.”

At that point the lead teacher jumped in, took her for a walk in the hallway and calmed her down. He told me later that it wasn’t a big deal, but I’ve never forgotten the look on her face as she as crying.

Then second person I made cry was during my first year of teaching of high school. It was a similar situation except this was a with a Junior in high school. We were working on a piece and I asked her to try something again and . . . she burst into tears. She asked to be excused and I let her leave the room. After class she came back and told me that her grandmother died the night before and that she was having a hard time with that.

Since then I’ve dealt with my share of crying.  This year I've probably had about ten kids cry in one of my classes. I think maybe two of those situations were in a direct response to something I said to them, but most of them had were like the Junior in high school, there was something else going on.

Even though I know that most of these kids tears are unrelated to me, it’s still hard. It’s uncomfortable and a little disturbing to have people around you who get so upset that they cry.  And yes, when I third grader cries, it’s usually about something inconsequential in the grand scheme but at that moment it could not be more important to the student.

Now that I’m a more experienced teacher I don’t fear kids crying because of things that I say but that doesn’t change the fact that when it happens, I just want to do whatever I can to make them feel better. Sometimes that’s not what the students needs at the time. Sometime we need to feel bad so that we can realize how we need to grow.

That's one of the hardest lessons to teach people but it's an important one for all of us especially teachers to learn.  If I didn't feel bad when a kid cried in my class, I would never reflect on my teaching and become a better educator and more importantly a better human being.

1 comment:

  1. During my first semester teaching college, I made a freshman cry and it was possibly the worst feeling ever. He is from a small farming community in Georgia and had never taken a private lesson before on percussion. He signed up to be a performance major at this school, (I could go on about what a horrible decision that is at this school). He cried because I told him his preparation for lessons is unsatisfactory. I told him he has to work harder and practice more because it's my job to make sure he has food to eat after he graduates. He has been trying harder ever since, but I foresee more tears in the future. That doesn't make me a bad teacher, just a compassionate one!