February 13, 2012

When the Classroom Isn't Utopia

How is a teacher supposed to feel when her students make terrible mistakes? Today an inordinate number of my students are facing detention for decisions that they made. Yet somehow I feel personally affronted by their behavior. I'm angry - "How could you have done this behind my back?" I feel betrayed - "How could you have done this behind MY back?" 

I know that they weren't thinking about me. They were thinking about being cool and fitting in. So why am I taking it so personally? 

I think it might be because it reminds me of how helpless I am in certain situations. No matter how supportive our classroom community is, kids still want to be accepted by their peers. No matter how much I encourage them to be themselves, they still want to belong. No matter how many honest conversations we have about friendship and peer pressure, kids still decide to say yes when they should say no.

I'm not angry at my students. They made bad choices. They faced the consequences. They learned from this experience.

However, I'm left with lots of questions - could I have prevented this? Could I prevent this in the future? How can I keep this incident from dividing our class?

Tomorrow most of them will return. I want to make sure that they are welcomed without shame. In order to learn in a safe collaborative environment we will all need to move on. I plan to have an open whole-class conversation about avoiding a split between those that got in trouble and those that didn't. I know that moving on rests a lot on my ability to model forgiveness and acceptance. I guess that means I need to get over my own anger and sense of betrayal.

Am I the only one who struggles with this? How do you stay sane and supportive when your students make terrible decisions? Any thoughts are greatly appreciated!

~ Amanda

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