Stir Up the World

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Sep 21 2012

the good

Contempt is a feeling I must never, ever have towards my students. One of my core beliefs as a teacher is that there is good in every student. Despite what I might think after bad days, no student is pure evil. If I’m fed up or personally insulted by a student, I can begin to think of them as “just a little punk.”  I don’t treat them any differently on the outside, but my thoughts about them gradually begin to affect my behavior.

Take B, for example. He’s in one of my math classes, and seems to take pride in not knowing the answers and not making any effort to know them. I can handle frustration, but apathy drives me nuts. I’m ashamed to say that I had kind of written him off in my mind and never expected him to have a positive attitude. At parent-teacher conferences, though, I learned that his family just basically imploded, and B blames himself for a lot of what went on, even though it wasn’t his fault at all. His mom said that he carries a lot of anger and conflicted feelings, and he just shuts down instead of lashing out at people. I felt horrible, and made an extra effort to be really nice to him instead of appearing as impatient as I feel.

Today, he transferred to my advisory class. I got to know him a little better and discovered that he loves baked goods. He lit up and kept asking me if I had baked this or that and I should really try this recipe and on and on and on. I saw a completely new side of him.

What I’ve learned from B is that if I have a problem with a student, I should get to know them better instead of treating them with contempt, looking for the good instead of focusing on the bad.

That’s what I learned this week. I haven’t really felt like blogging that much lately — I haven’t had much to say. My  classes are going shockingly well — I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s the end of the 5th week of school (I think), and I’m riding that positive reinforcement wave. I don’t know how much better of a teacher I am, but my classes are sure going better.

I’m obsessing about next year. I have so many options, and I am feeling so guilty at the prospect of leaving. We’ll see.

On the bright side: it’s Friday, I’m wearing jeans, and I’m planning to bake lemon bars this weekend!

3 Responses

  1. C

    Just a thought (in case it hadn’t crossed your mind yet): Some people avoid even the possibility of failure because it’s safer. If I don’t try, then I’m not the failure because I could have done it if I wanted to. Or so goes the thinking. Yes, there are kids who are apathetic. More often than not though, it’s a defense mechanism (often unconscious). From what you’ve said about B, it sounds like that’s the behavior you’re seeing. B feels like a failure and isn’t willing to risk failing at anything else so he’s adopted an attitude that protects him.

  2. “One of my core beliefs as a teacher is that there is good in every student.”

    I’m serving through City Year right now, and my Team Leader repeats often that ‘there are no bad kids. Just bad choices.’ Thank you for the reminder and the tip!

  3. Katie

    I needed to read this. I have that one student who is really making me crazy. Thanks for helping me look for the good. :)

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September 2012
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the title

"If one desires to 'stir up the world,' it is easy to be impatient with work for the sake of work. Yet no story's end can forsake its beginning and its middle." -Joshua Wolf Shank on Abraham Lincoln