Friday, October 21, 2011

Year 2: Week 7 - Taking It Personally

The relationship between a teacher and a student has changed throughout history and varies quite a bit depending on the school and the level of teaching.  There’s the traditional idea of the teacher as an authority figure.  Then there’s the more fluid idea of a teacher who does not so much instruct but guides students through learning experiences.

Most teachers are somewhere in-between.  What comes along with this relationship is that things students do affect teachers’ feelings.  When a student starts talking when I’m instructing is it a personal sign of disrespect?  Is this something that I should feel offended about?  Well, probably not but feigning a level of offense does help students understand the consequences of their behavior.  The things is, I can’t take things students do in class personally because I’d probably just go insane if I did.

Children and teens (and many adults) do not fully understand the consequences of their actions.  Do you get offended at a seven year-old who makes a racist joke when they honestly don’t know the implication of what they said?  Not really, a serious conversation needs to happen but you taking it personally doesn’t really help the situation.

I tell my kids that people who don’t know you can’t really hurt your feelings.  If someone makes fun of you who has never met you, they aren’t reacting to who you are as a human being, they are just throwing a random comment at you that is not based in any meaningful interactions.  On the contrary if someone who has known you for all your life insults you they are speaking from the experience of knowing you personally and that can hurt.

My students don’t know me.  I mean they do, but “Mr. Tang” isn’t a full human being in their minds.  It’s why whenever one of my students sees me out side of school they are shocked to learn that I exist outside of the school building.

I guess I’m pondering this topic because sometimes it’s hard to separate the way students behave with my own personal feelings.  The reality is that sometimes negative student behavior is in fact based in a lack of respect for the teacher.

Thinking back to my first couple years of teaching I can see clearly times when students acted out in class because they didn’t respect me.  While that rarely seems to happen now, I can’t help but wonder when a student behaves in a way that is disrespectful to me how much is this about who I am as a person. 

This week has had some amazing and positive interactions with students and some pretty rough ones.  Is it crazy to take the positive ones as personal success and brush off the negative ones as things that shouldn’t affect my feelings?

I wish I could but I don’t think that the way things should be.  Because you can’t take positive things as personal victories and not take all the feelings that go along with negative situations. 

At the end of the day I guess what’s important to remembers is that the song is not about the teachers.  If things go really well in class, yeah the teachers deserves some credit but it’s the students who made it happen and when things go bad in class, the teacher probably contributed to that situation a bit but no one forced the kids to act like jerks, they chose that path themselves. 

When you invest time and energy into other people, in my case 196 students, you can’t help but become emotionally involved.  Because it’s that emotional connection that makes you care enough to do all the work to make that students have a positive experience in your class.  Like most things in life, I guess it's just a balancing act in which you have to make sure you wear enough armor that the stabs that you have to bear from your students don't damage the heart that you have to teach with every day. 

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