Have you ever had a day when you realized you weren’t your best self? I have had plenty, but the one that really stands out in my memory occurred during my first year teaching in the primary grades. I tried very hard to be patient with my students, but I found my patience wearing thin.
“Why are you tardy?” I demanded as Jose sauntered in late.
“Will you just do your work?” I screeched as Monique refashioned her friend’s hair.
“Look at me when I am teaching!” I squawked as Lisa unwound more fibers from the carpet.
Curt comments were pouring out of my mouth all day. That night, I actually sat myself down and gave myself a good talking to about my behavior! “Remember that they are children. They need you to be patient and kind no matter what,” I said, resolving that the next day would be different and that I would behave better.
The next day was much better. Students arrived on time and no one spent time braiding their table mate’s hair or reweaving the carpet during instruction. Still there were the usual interruptions from students who had misplaced their math papers or spilled their red fruit juice down the fronts of their white shirts, but I managed each situation with a smile. At day’s end, I dismissed the kids to the hallway to retrieve their jackets and backpacks. As they ran to their coat hooks, I saw Roberto striding toward me.
“Mrs. Miller?” he inquired.
“Yes? I replied, still smiling.
“Thank you,” he said in his cute little raspy voice.
“For what, Roberto?” I asked in surprise.
“Just for today,” he said, shrugging his shoulders and looking at me intently.
“Ooooooooh. That is so sweet of you,” I cooed as I looked at him, waiting to see if he had anything more to say.
“Yeah,” he said nodding his head forward in complete sincerity. “I just really like it on days when you’re nice.”
I was stunned for an instant, but remembering the day before said, “So do I, Roberto. So do I.”
I have cracked up more than once while recollecting that humbling conversation, and the lesson I learned has stayed with me. My mood makes a difference to my students and my actions and words are powerful.
After all, I am able to control an entire classroom with a single glance.
I am able to inflict wounds with a flick of my tongue.
But better, I am able to instill confidence in my students with a simple wink.
I am able to build students up by using choice words to direct them to be on time, to make better choices, and to pay close attention.
I need to control my reactions to the odd and sometimes ridiculous things kids do. And if I do control them and move forward happily, I make everyone in the class (including myself) a little more thankful just for today.
* Practical application*
After this happened, I began placing little construction paper signs (or post-it notes) where I’d see them as I was teaching and working with students. I wrote notes that said, “Be nice.” or “Easy does it.” or “Count to ten.” Sure the kids noticed them, and they used them for themselves. They didn’t realize that I had put them there for myself, but if they had, I’d have made it a teachable moment to let them know that even adults need reminders (and practice) being nice.