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My Biggest Regret as a Teacher

Posted by on in Leadership
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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.

My Regret

This quote by Todd Whitaker from What Great Principals Do Differently beautifully sums up the one change I wish I had made above all else:

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.

Sarcastic Comment 

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…

Cutting Remark

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?

Connect with Ross on his blog and on Twitter. 

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I am the coauthor of Hacking Project Based Learning, and the Supervisor of Instructional Practice K-12 in the Salisbury Township School District (1:1 MacBook/iPad) in Allentown, Pennsylvania. I am an Apple Distinguished Educator and a Google Certified Innovator. My passions are inquiry-based learning and quality professional development. I blog about these topics at rosscoops31.com. I regularly speak, present, and conduct workshops related to my writings and professional experiences.

When I am not working, I enjoy eating steak and pizza, exercising, reading books, playing on my computer, and provoking my three beautiful nephews. Please feel free to connect via email, RossCoops31@gmail.com, and Twitter, @RossCoops31.

  • Jon Harper /  @Jonharper70bd
    Jon Harper / @Jonharper70bd Saturday, 06 February 2016

    Ross I think this is a very important piece. I always believe that when we reflect honestly and openly, it gives others courage to do the same.

  • Ross Cooper | @RossCoops31
    Ross Cooper | @RossCoops31 Sunday, 07 February 2016

    Thanks, Jon! As you say, sometimes it is not easy to be transparent, but often times I too believe it is necessary.

  • Oskar Cymerman | @CrushSchoolSpy
    Oskar Cymerman | @CrushSchoolSpy Saturday, 06 February 2016

    I have been guilty of the same Ross. It took a student telling me, for me to realize that some kids thought I meant some of the sarcastic "funny" (in my mind) things I said at times. Teaching high schoolers, it was easy to assume they get it, and while most did some were hurt by what I said. As long as we are willing to listen, learn, and change we can forgive ourselves. We're human after all :) Thanks for writing this reflection Ross.

  • Ross Cooper | @RossCoops31
    Ross Cooper | @RossCoops31 Sunday, 07 February 2016

    Thanks, Oskar! Kudos to you for making the necessary adjustments, and to the student who had the courage to speak up.

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