Taking Things Personally

So, this post was spurred by a somewhat random thought and came out very stream of consciousness, but ended up in kind of an interesting place. Enjoy!

Early in my teaching career (ok, even now), I let student misbehavior or pushback really get to me. I would hang on to their disrespect or disdain for days and even weeks. I wanted students to like me, and I was really bothered when they didn’t. Over time, I have been able to shift away from taking things personally and am able to let go of student perceptions and not see their misbehavior as a direct attack on my character. 

I think I see some of my early thinking play out in many new teachers’ unwillingness to intervene when students are causing a distraction. Unfortunately, the distraction takes mental energy and the rest of the lesson suffers. I suspect that at least in some cases, we as teachers are holding onto a very common desire to be liked. Rocking the boat is scary. I wish I could remember the first time I asked a student to stick around after class to discuss their distracting actions, but I don’t. I do know that my approach has evolved over the years. Instead of telling the students what is wrong, I try really hard to ask questions – something like, “I noticed you were having trouble paying attention today, what can I do to help?” While I am drawing the students’ attention to the fact that I noticed, I’m also trying to help, not give an ultimatum. Ultimatums might work with some kids, but those are probably the kids that aren’t all that distracting in the first place. Maybe I’ve been able to take things less personally because I’m taking things more personally. Rather than creating an adversarial relationship, I can now see how we are in it together. Instead of projecting my own sense of inadequacy, I’m accepting my own responsibility for helping them learn.

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