It was a really rough week at school for a number of reasons. I had been feeling very low and quite emotional for a couple of days after receiving some quite negative feedback from some of my students who preferred I didn’t know who they were, via my boss.
I was struggling to get past that until some lovely things happened to remind me that my professional life is not defined by negative comments from one group of students.
Thursday morning was complicated by things way beyond my control. I was supervising an exam and nobody came to take my place, so I couldn’t leave to take my Year 12 class. Given that the day before I found it really hard to go in there, I was thankful for the reprieve despite the obvious inconvenience that went hand-in-hand with it. I was worried that the Year 12 students would think I just didn’t bother; in that sense, my missing their class couldn’t have happened at a worse time. While still in the exam room, I sent them a note to apologise and explain what had happened. The good thing was that it gave me time and distance to decide how I was going to deal with the issues I was facing in there. I wanted to talk with them about it, but not while I was still upset enough to cry or sound whiny. I didn’t want it to be a knee-jerk or emotional reaction.
Later in the morning I ran some auditions for the school musical. This year we’re doing “The Pirates of Penzance”. Two of the senior students who have both had leading roles in previous years auditioned together – she played Frederick and he played Ruth. It was absolutely delightful. That was the first time I had smiled, let alone laughed, in almost three days. They had no idea of how I was feeling, nor did they realise just what amazing therapy they were for me.
That afternoon I had my drama class. The students were performing plays that they had written themselves.
Those kids were amazing. They wrote clever scripts and performed them beautifully. There were some fabulous moments of humour, some well-developed drama, and very clever characterisation. I saw one young lady who started with little confidence perform with confidence and style. I saw three young actors with a lot more experience perform a highly comedic play with at least eight roles, achieved cleverly with the change of a hat, glasses, jacket or prop to denote a different character.
After their performances, we had a little time so we talked about the plays and what they thought of their performances. I was so encouraged to hear them praising each other and saying really positive and constructive things without any encouragement to do so from me. We shared some fun moments and we laughed together. It was one of those moments where we all bonded as a group and everyone left feeling great.
On that same afternoon, we had our ‘Professional Learning Community’ staff meeting. This is where we divide into groups and discuss things like assessment, teaching and learning strategies, motivation, and all that type of stuff. I was so tempted to just go home and avoid the whole thing, but I went along like the good girl I am.
The “icebreaker” was to tell everyone the high point and the low point of our teaching in the past few weeks.
I shared about my drama class and their great performances, but also about the positive bonding time afterward. I shared my frustration about not having been relieved from exam supervision that morning as the “low point” because I was still hurting over the year 12s and didn’t want to tell anyone about it.
In the course of the discussion, I was reminded that everyone has low points, nobody gets things right all the time, and that those issues don’t mean we’re not good at what we do. They just mean we’re human. Another colleague remarked that half the time when we think things are failing miserably, the kids don’t even realise. I responded with the observation that it’s like a play on stage – we know the script, but the kids don’t, so half the time when we think we’ve failed miserably, they are none the wiser.
As I drove home, I thought about my year 12s. As I wrote the other day, I didn’t know if it was one, two or seventeen of them that had complained. What if it really was only one or two? I thought about each of the students and decided that it definitely wouldn’t have been some of them. I decided to talk with them the next morning at the end of my class – rationally, reasonably, and humbly.
On Friday morning, ten minutes before the recess bell, I asked them to stop working and listen as I had something I wanted all of them to hear.
When I told them that I had been informed that there were students in there who thought I didn’t like them and weren’t being treated fairly, a number of the students looked indignant and quite angry. They were as horrified as I had been. That was reassuring.
I told them that I’m aware I don’t always get things right. I told them that if I had caused offence or hurt anyone that I was genuinely sorry and had been unaware of it until this week. I said that I didn’t want any barriers between them and me. I want to do everything I can to help them finish school well.
I told them that if I seemed reserved or miserable, it was far more likely that I was in physical pain than that I didn’t want to be with them. I told them that I don’t like to let on when I’m in pain because that’s my problem, not theirs.
I asked them to please come and talk with me, or write me a note, or send me an email, if they wanted to talk about anything one-to-one or if there was any aspect of their work they wanted help with.
I reassured them that I really do like them. I think they’re great – and that’s the truth. I love being in class with them.
I left the room at the end of the lesson feeling like a weight had been lifted off me. I had met the conflict head on and dealt with it as honestly and sincerely as I could.
The only kids who came to see me after class were ones who wanted to tell me that they knew I loved them and they had no idea where any of that came from. They told me it certainly wasn’t the majority view, and it hadn’t been discussed in the common room. Nobody has sent me any anonymous hate mail, nor has anyone asked me to work on something specific with them.
I really hope that I modelled some good behaviour in terms of resolving conflict and apologising. I really hope that the reassurance I gave was all that was needed to set their minds at ease. I trust that things will improve from here on.
All I can do now is wait and see.