tradecraft…your voice (part VII)

“if at first you don’t succeed, destroy all evidence that you tried.” ― steven wright

i love the above quote from steven wright…it is something that we can all relate to because no one likes to talk about failure or have their failures known…including me…but, that’s what this post is about…a time when i messed it up

here’s the story…

a few weeks ago, a kid came into class–we’ll call him ‘jacob’–running his mouth, like he was known to do…this time, jacob was ‘going off’ about how he hated the school resource officer and how the ‘school cop’ was always on his case…his tone set me on edge from the get go…and it went downhill from there…

every year, there is one kid who can push your buttons like no other, really get under your skin, you know…it can get to the point that every time you hear the sound of their voice (regardless of the words) it feels like someone’s pulled out a tattoo needle and started digging in, started working over your nerves like nobody’s business…imagine that kind of thing happening nearly every day for nine months…then you’ll have an idea of what it’s been like, this year, with jacob…

and it’s the kind of thing that can drive even the most seasoned teacher to the brink…could also be one of the reasons why nearly half (46%) of all new teachers in america leave after the first five years (dr. david walsh (lecture), 2014; ‘american teacher’ documentary, 2011; national education association publication, 2008)…that fact alone should be enough to raise alarm bells across the country and is probably an issue worth returning to in a later post [note to self]…

anyways…

class was moving along and we working on an interactive observation activity…students were moving around the room and working with other students to complete their tasks…jacob wasn’t working, in fact, he was standing near some other boys and they began arguing over which branch of service was the best, and it was getting heated…i told them to ‘take it easy’ and focus on their tasks (it was the second or third time that i had to redirect these gentlemen during this block), but it didn’t slow down or stop their debate…they continued on and it got more personal…to the point where other students were beginning to be affected by what they were saying…

it was disrespectful, they way they were talking to each other…and disruptive…especially, the remarks that jacob was making…

and, i was done…

so, i launched out of my desk chair and came around my desk with a full head of steam and shouted:

enough! that’s enough!  jacob, just sit down and shut up!

immediately, i realized what i had said…it was like i could see the words floating over the desks in the classroom…like a bubble hovering over a cartoon character in the sunday comics…in that instant, i wished i hadn’t said those two words… “shut up”…

but, i couldn’t take it back…it was too late…

in that moment, the room went completely quiet…but, not the good kind of quiet…if you work around people (as a profession) you know exactly what i’m talking about…it was a quiet that resulted from a slap in the face, a cheap shot…

we finished off the class and i finished off the rest of my day, then headed home for the weekend…

the next day, my wife, kids, and i went out to breakfast with our friend joy…

during breakfast, i shared the story i just shared with you…after i was done…joy said, these things can happen, you know?

there was a bit of a pause in the conversation…

[you should know that joy’s a teacher…she’s been doing it a long time (longer than my wife and i) & she’s really good at it]

the next thing joy asked was…

joy: when did it happen?

me: on friday…

there was another pause…then, joy looked at me and said…

joy: it’s not too late, you can still apologize…

i guess it was my turn to get slapped in the face…because that’s exactly what it felt like when she said that to me…at the time, i said something like, yeah, ok…but, deep down i was pissed…thinking…

the hell you say, joy?! apologize?! you’ve got some nerve saying that to me, this kid needed ‘a talking to’!

[you can see that i was continuing the same mature attitude and mindset that i had demonstrated the day before…heh, heh]

anyways, i thought a lot about what she had said…and it went around in my head for about 48 hours…i thought about what i had said and done, i thought about my actions in the classroom that day…akin to looking into a good mirror…a kind of mirror that can show you the truth…reflect back the good, bad, and ugly things about yourself..and in this case, it was a painful process…

i thought about it right up until the time that jacob and his class were to arrive for monday’s lessons…

so, they came in and we went through a regular class…it was all routine–no issues or problems…at the end of class, i dismissed everyone…everyone but jacob…who i called up to my desk…

here’s what happened…

me: hey, i wanted to talk to you about friday and what went on…

jacob: o.k….

[i breathed in]

me: i wanted to apologize for what i said, for how i acted…

jacob: hey, d., it’s no problem, it’s all good, man…

me: no, it’s not o.k….it wasn’t o.k. for me to talk to you like that, it was disrespectful…telling you to ‘shut up’…you know, it’s not something i usually say, i broke one of my own rules there…and, i’m sorry… 

jacob: no worries, d., we’re good…but, i really appreciate you saying that anyways…

then, he left the room…

in the silence of the room, i knew that joy had been right…that i needed to do something that i didn’t want to…even though it was the right thing to do, even though i knew i was the one who made the mistake–in how i responded to him, in how i used my voice…because despite that saying we all learned long ago: sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me…we found out, pretty early on in life, that that saying is bullshit…words can hurt, words can cut deep…and saying the words ‘shut-up’, like i did, may not seem like an offense to some…but, i knew it was just that–it was a violation of a rule i have for myself, as a professional educator–a rule i have for myself as one who ‘herds cats’ professionally (especially since a good portion of the kids we work with are ‘talked to’ like that at home)…and like i told jacob, i broke it…and because of that, i knew i had to apologize…

so, with that…how have you used your voice?  how will you use your voice in the future?

important questions to ask, because in this line of work–herding cats…your voice can be a force for good or for ill…

[interestingly, the next day, when jacob and his class returned again…the air was a lot lighter…the edges had been softened…and jacob regarded me a bit better than he had in the past, more positively, i could feel the difference…]

“success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”                                                                                       ― winston churchill

One response

  1. Thx Dave. Such a great truth and one I need to be much more aware of. It’s so easy to think that our words matter v little. The courage to ask for forgiveness is paramount and God pleasing and necessary to stay in the center of His will. I applaud you for having the courage and humility to listen to His leading and then to do it. You are in such a great spot to minister to others….your mission field!!

    Bless you Linda

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Like

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