Flummoxed! Or emotionally traveling back to my student teaching days.

Today was a really hard day, because it brought back a lot of the emotions that I had when doing my student teaching. Those days were long and exhausting, and I remember that every little thing affected me.

In those days, I took every student comment to heart. A student got upset after getting back a quiz and breaks down? A student got angry at me for reprimanding them? A student came to me crying about how her A- on a test will preclude them from ever going to college? A student talking to me with nothing but apathy even though they’re failing and won’t be able to graduate? I heard their voices bounce around my brain and my stomach would be all fluttery and I would just be emotionally in turmoil. It may have been a throwaway comment by a student — usually it was — but I carried it with me all day. Sometimes for days.

I needed to develop a tough skin. And, as the student teaching progressed, I did. (Although I needed to breakdown a few times to do it.)

Last year (my first year of full time teaching) I really grew that thick skin. I learned to put up with a lot of flak without students phasing me emotionally. Students really really like to test the boundaries of new teachers at my school and I felt like I dealt with that admirably. I still had days where they got to me, though.

This year I’ve been even more adept at dealing with students. One quarter has passed and I haven’t had that emotional breakdown yet. I think it’s largely because I’ve been even clearer and consistent with my expectations, and I don’t always engage in dialogue with students.

If a student doesn’t do their homework, I let them tell me their reasons/excuses, and then I say “Thank you for telling me that. I’m sorry but I’m still going to have to give you a 0.” Last year, I would engage with a dialogue about why I can’t and won’t give them credit. Last year, if a student asked if I offer extra credit, I would say no and justify my reasons. This year, I say “no” and point them to the course expectations handed out on the first day which states that I don’t give extra credit. Only if students want to have a discussion, in respectful terms, outside of class, do I go into that territory. But this year, as opposed to last year, I’m not the one starting the discussion.

Anyway, how did I get on this topic? Oh yeah, so I feel like I can keep a pretty cool head at school. I’m empathetic to students and my own emotions don’t really ever show through. But today, for the first time this year, there was a student in front of me crying. Because of… well… lots of things. But the point is: my chest tightened, I got all emotional and flustered, and his or her words were bouncing around in my head for hours as I played the situation over and over like a movie reel in my mind.

I felt the same kind of heightened, overly-emotional reaction that I experienced when I was student teaching. It is hard to go through the motions of teaching when you’re not steady emotionally.

I’m much better now, and things will be just fine.

Some fluffy part of me wants to say that emotion enhances teaching. But the more honest part of me is screaming: not being so invested in students emotionally might actually serve them better. I don’t mean that it’s okay not to care about your kids. But it’s okay not to get all tied up in their day-to-day feelings towards you, your subject matter, your policies, or your class. I think I’m not expressing myself right and I need to think this through a bit more to articulate it so it doesn’t come across harshly. But maybe other teachers out there have a sense of what I’m talking about? Keeping an emotional barrier between you and your students?

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