One of my favorite teachers is Alicia Saldana. She teaches some of the most needy students in the school and requests to have them every year. She sometimes shares brain-dumps with me, and it’s my privilege to learn from her.
This is what she sent me recently.
Today, I let my best self be overshadowed by my lack-of-patience self. My self that has been state testing for 3 weeks and has a 4-month-old that decided during this, the most stressful and exhausting time of year, to sleep only 2 hours at a time. My self that is human (and totally imperfect) snapped at a kid when he tried to explain to me why he was bullying another student.
Now snapping isn’t something I normally do, ever, but it was a perfect storm. It went something like this.
“Haha! You got [student] in your group!”
“Excuse me, this is a safe space. We don’t talk like that.”
“Mrs. Saldana, I said it because –”
“There is no excuse!” I interrupted. “You can’t talk that way.”
His head hung. He walked back to his seat and refused to work.
Luckily for me, I work with a special education teacher who told me, “You gotta let him tell you.”
She was right. This wasn’t any kid making an excuse for bad behavior. It was a student who lives in a group home who rarely gets heard out and needs love, not a teacher snapping at him. In fact, his circumstances don’t matter. Any kid trying to explain behavior is an opportunity for me as a teacher to teach, not snap.
Yes, he was wrong. Yes, he was being a bully. But there was no excuse for me not to hear him out.
I approached him, knelt down at his desk, and apologized.
“I’m sorry I snapped at you. I absolutely shouldn’t have done that.”
“I want to know why you said what you said.”
No answer. I waited. I wasn’t going to get frustrated. We were both going to learn from our mistakes.
“I just said it because [other student] was saying that he wasn’t doing any work and she didn’t want to be in his group.”
“But was what you said helping or hurting?” I asked.
“Hurting,” he answered with finality.
“And what should you have done instead?”
“It’s okay. We all make mistakes. We can both try harder tomorrow. I am really sorry I snapped at you. We’re okay?”
“We’re okay.” He said
I held out my pinky finger for him to promise that we were okay. We both walked away better people.
Teaching is mistakes. It’s learning. The best way to teach kids that we can learn from our mistakes is to model that behavior.
Yes. State testing has got me down. Yes. I’ve had a rough end to the year. No, this won’t be the last time I have to apologize to a student. It won’t be the last time I snap.
But every time I do, I hope I’m always a brave enough, strong enough teacher to apologize and learn.