In June 2014 I officially left my job as a fourth grade teacher, and the classroom, to become an administrator. Since joining the dark side, I continuously ask myself what I could have and should have done differently for my students.
While some of my previous work – such as this post on grading – has focused on how my teaching could have been enhanced, my biggest regret really has nothing to do with actual instruction.
If just once in a month, or even once in a school year, we choose to make a sarcastic comment or cutting remark to a student or staff member, we may as well have carved it in stone. They may pretend to have forgotten that moment, but they will never forget.
Pretty much anyone who has ever had a conversation with me knows I constantly use sarcasm. So, it should not come as a surprise to hear that the sarcasm did not entirely stop when I was in front of my students.
For example, on one occasion one of my students was at her desk when she spilled the milk she was drinking, some of which splashed on her clothing. Out of embarrassment, she sat under her desk and cried…How did I react? Well, I decided to make light of the situation by telling jokes like, “Hey, you can’t cry over spilled milk!” The result, a whole lot more crying…That very same night at parent conferences I came face to face with her massive father for the very first time. It was a good thing he was happy with his daughter’s education…
Since becoming an administrator I have realized the importance of establishing relationships with others by being attentive (or trying to), exhibiting patience, and treating everyone’s problems as if they are my own…More accurately, I have always known these behaviors were important, but now they are simply non-negotiables if I want to do my job well.
Looking back, I should have also treated these types of actions as non-negotiables when I was in the classroom. While I definitely was not a teacher who yelled (maybe a select handful of times a year), I did occasionally make cutting remarks, and there was a higher probability of this happening on days on which my patience was wearing thin for one reason or another. I can say now, I did not realize the ramifications of my actions, and the fact that these comments could have stuck with some of my students for quite awhile (and not necessarily “wear off” at the end of each school day).
In the End
I would be willing to bet some of my former students and parents will read this post, completely baffled. After all, for a lot of students, the cutting remarks were probably harmless, and my sarcasm most likely made their time at school that much more enjoyable.
Nonetheless, perception is reality. And if the words I chose had a negative impact on any of my students, then I should have been more careful with what came out of my mouth.
If you are a former teacher, what is your biggest regret? If you are a current teacher, what is something you can change now so it won’t be a regret later on?