Promoting Student Success, Pt. 3: Dealing With the Bad Days

The third part in the ongoing series about how I can encourage success and not set students (and myself) up for failure.

The Bad Days
I wish I could say otherwise, but it’s not always awesome in Señor Fernie’s classroom. Sometimes, it really stinks. When behavior is out of control, when students aren’t responding well to the story, when I’m not on my game (usually, these things happen all at the same time, each one affecting the others), frustration grows.

I had a day like that last week and it still haunts me. I yelled at my class. I harangued them about being quiet. I totally lost my temper. It was not my finest moment. The worst part is that I haven’t seen this group again since that day. They are coming back for class today and I don’t really know what to expect.

That’s the problem with losing it in front of the kids: there is a vacuum that can be filled with a lot of bad vibes.

The Schedule
I teach each middle school class two times a week, usually back to back days (Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday). That means that I have two consecutive days to make a point or to teach a lesson and then 5 consecutive days of not seeing the kids. It has been challenging, for sure, but I have gotten to be pretty good at anticipating the types of problems that sometimes arise from this schedule and nipping them before they start…but sometimes I’m not so good.

And the two day a week schedule multiplies those bad days. If the bad day is a Friday, I won’t see the class again until the following Thursday, leaving 5 days of hurt feelings and thoughts of, “Señor must really hate me.” This breaks my heart. I don’t hate any of the kids. There are around 450 of them that I teach and I dislike exactly 0 of them.

The Problem with Losing It
The feeling of dislike, of discontent, of fear towards their teacher, is like an infection. Without any any antibiotics, the infection grows and grows and eventually becomes life-threatening, transforming a small injury into a mortal wound. And that’s what happens to the relationship between myself and the students when the kids think I don’t like them.

Their feelings fester and they dwell and they end up acting out even more in class. They talk among themselves at lunch and say things like, “you think Señor hates you, he hates me even more!” They’re kids, they don’t always know how to deal with their hurt feelings in constructive ways. Some shut down completely and refuse to participate.

And if that’s not setting them up for failure, I don’t know what is.

The Upshot
This has been quite a bummer, but there is a silver lining: apologies go a long way. I always apologize when something like this happens. I think that it builds good will and models the types of behaviors that we should expect from students. This is probably the most important part of restoring confidence between the teacher and students.

It can be humiliating to admit to making such a huge mistake and it’s humbling to do it for children who have lost some respect and admiration for you. It goes miles in rebuilding the rapport you have with them. They learn a lesson about taking ownership of their behaviors, good or bad, and they get to take a peek behind the curtain, as it were, and see that we teachers are human beings who make mistakes and have bad days.

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