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The Grumpy Teacher

Posted by on in Classroom Management
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This was the week I retook control of all aspects of my life. Things would be different this week. Everything would turn around and become better this week. Instead, I wasn't good enough this week and my students did not hesitate to let me know.

This week I started waking up a half hour earlier (3:45AM!) to start my morning workouts. This week I managed to start going to bed earlier. This week I refocused my eating habits to reflect my fitness goals (Elite Spartan Beast on 4/29) . This week was the start of a journey that required me to conduct 17 formal teacher observations in 8 days (12 days including post-observation conferences). This week the lessons for my 3 daily classes were absolutely on-point. Everything was going so well for me this week, until...

Then my students informed me that I am a grumpy teacher. One of my students coined the term "Grumpy T" (T for Thom) to describe me. This started a class-wide discussion in one period where the class agreed that I had been grumpy and different all week. This shocked me and I felt incredulous when I heard this. My body felt great from the workouts, I was getting more sleep than before, I was eating much healthier, and I was loving all the observations and genuine conversations I was having with teachers. How could I possibly be grumpy?

I proceeded to tell them that I felt better this week than I had in a long time and that I'm not different; that it was their behavior that was frustrating. They seemed extra talkative this week. There were numerous occasions during a class period that prevented me from finishing a sentence without experiencing an interruption. I pushed back and put the onus on them. After all, I had tried everything I could to improve the issues in the class. I did my job...or had I?

I am in my ninth year as an educator and have never been called "grumpy", let alone have a nickname attributed to me with that word in it. This was a serious allegation and demanded my attention and reflection. We spent so much time as a class working to create a safe space that I thought there was no possible way for this. After much reflection and with the help of a great friend (much love Oskar), I realized that the problem was me.

For the first time this school year, I felt that I had control of my entire life. Professionally, I had a real schedule for observations and conferences and my class plans sought to maximize student engagement and enjoyment. Personally, I had started to duplicate some of the physical routines that allow me to compete in Elite Spartan Races. I had control of so much, but I was greedy. I wanted control of everything, including how my students interacted in my classroom.

I spoke with my students about the environment that we created and even suggested that maybe they were too comfortable with how our class operates. Then I realized that we created the environment. The entire foundation of our classes consists of shared control and shared dominion over our shared space. I have spent the entire school year embracing my lack of control. I have let my students drive instruction, discussion, and all aspects of the class. Here I was trying flip the script so I could have full control over what transpired when we were together. Who did I think I was?

As educators, we sometimes want to have as much control over as many things as we can. This doesn't make you a control freak; this is natural and completely understandable. We spend so much time creating and planning amazing lessons and plans for our classes. We want them to unfold exactly the way that we visioned in our minds. If you have spent a few weeks in any classroom, you know that things never go the way you want. The best educators are the best educators because they understand this, embrace it, and adjust accordingly.

One of the major suggestions during all of my post-observation conferences with my teachers was to give students more control of the classroom. I explain to teachers that it will be messy, loud, and sometimes look like a disaster, but that doesn't mean that it isn't working. When your students tell you that you are grumpy (or annoyed, different, angry, or any other emotion), the transfer of control is working and clear. You are creating leaders and free-thinkers. Do yourself and your students a favor and listen. They spend a lot of time with you and they probably know your tendencies and personality better than you do. Listen to them!

After realizing this, I addressed my students. I told them while I started working out in the morning, it prevented me from doing my morning meditations (they know this is a big part of my daily routine because I share my life with them). I explained how this affected me physically, mentally, and emotionally and apologized to them. I owned who I was this week and it flipped the narrative entirely. As a result, we enjoyed some of our best classes on Friday and everyone felt good while learning.

To my students, thank you. I am so thankful to know that we have created an environment where you feel you can be real and honest with me and each other. Your open and pointed feedback made me realize what I was doing wrong and what I need to do to be better for you. It is not easy to hear that you are doing something wrong. It took me a few days to see in myself what you were seeing in me. I need you to continue to hold me accountable when things are off.

Thank you for having the courage to drop the waterline and be real with your teacher. Thank you for fighting to preserve the environment of shared ownership that we have created. Thank you for looking me in the eyes and demanding more from me, that you need me to be better. I will be better and I know you will tell me the next time that you need more from me. I hope this never changes. I hope you continue to advocate for what you need, stand up for what is right, and be the change you wish to see in your world.

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Born and raised in Cumberland County, New Jersey, Sean not only has remained, but has continued to grow with his community. He now resides in the same county with his wife and their two young sons. Sean currently serves as an administrator at Camden’s Promise Charter School, where he focuses on the professional development of teachers and building various social-emotional skills with students. Graduating from Rutgers University with an undergraduate degree in Communication as well as a graduate degree from the University of Scranton in Educational Administration helped open the doors to what has now become nearly a decade long career in education.


 


 


 


As a result of connecting with people everyday of all ages, ethnicities, cultures and beliefs, Sean has learned how to listen and meet the individualized needs of different groups of people. In order to help organize parents and educators to come together in academic spaces, it has required him to search for innovative, functional, and inclusive ways to solve problems.


 


 


 


Despite Sean's childhood aspirations of one day becoming an attorney, he has since become an unwavering advocate for positive youth development and education. Growing up, Sean experienced difficulty financially and emotionally in an unstable household while also battling a sometimes crippling learning disability (ADHD). School became both a place of refuge and a source of trouble for Sean. If not for certain teachers and school faculty encouraging him as a young person, he would not have pursued higher education and would not have been able to impact countless students the way he does today.


 


 


 


Throughout his career as an educator in New Jersey, Sean has based every decision solely on what is best for youth and their futures. He has worked to create new, effective programs as well as supports for students and parents addressing social issues. Sean has demonstrated his student-first approach by never being afraid to privately and publicly question decisions that impact teachers, students, and the educational process. As a result, he has been able to create strong, lasting relationships across our state with the students, families, and communities that he has served.


 


 


 


As a leader in education, Sean has rooted his success in incorporating three major values that he applies to every facet of his life: honesty, integrity, and transparency. All great leaders exhibit honesty regardless of how difficult a situation may be. In these times, we need someone who will honor the trust of their constituents, despite possible backlash. Sean has displayed his commitment to integrity by maintaining a strong moral basis in all decisions, never being swayed by personal gain, and combating corruption wherever it exists. Transparency is also something that is not frequently witnessed in politics. Without it, it is easy for elected officials to lose touch with the people they serve. Having worked in education, Sean understands the power of collective responsibility while encouraging collaboration and the inclusion of diverse opinions to impact change. His unique background matched with his life experiences have allowed him to truly understand the struggles and needs of so many American people.


 


 


 


As the next United States Congressman from the state of New Jersey, Sean promises to apply the most effective policies to positively influence the collective growth of all New Jerseyans and Americans. He intends to only put the best interests of his constituents, state, and country first, regardless of how unpopular that may make him within the political machine. This is how we give politics, power, and our country back to the people. This is how we place our future first.

  • Guest
    Gillian Judson Sunday, 11 December 2016

    Great message Sean. But 3:45 is a bit ridiculous (and I"m a morning worker-outer!)

  • Sean A. Thom  |  @SeanAThom
    Sean A. Thom | @SeanAThom Wednesday, 14 December 2016

    Thanks Gillian! I know it is early, but I don't have any other option. I'm trying to combine 32 hours of life into 24 hours!

  • Rita Wirtz |  @RitaWirtz
    Rita Wirtz | @RitaWirtz Sunday, 11 December 2016

    Really great. Wonderful.

  • Sean A. Thom  |  @SeanAThom
    Sean A. Thom | @SeanAThom Wednesday, 14 December 2016

    Thanks Rita! We can all learn from our students if we keep our hearts and mind open!

  • Guest
    Stacy Tuesday, 13 December 2016

    You get it Sean! Whether you were grumpy or not, you care about your students. I enjoy reading your stories Sean! Keep up the good work, you are an amazing teacher!

  • Sean A. Thom  |  @SeanAThom
    Sean A. Thom | @SeanAThom Wednesday, 14 December 2016

    Thanks so much Stacy, I appreciate the kind words! Our students always come first and sometimes it is easy to get caught up in everything else. It is all about perspective!

  • Guest
    Stacy Tuesday, 13 December 2016

    You get it Sean! Whether you were grumpy or not, you are a great teachers to your students. I enjoy reading your blogs Sean! Keep up the good work, you are a great teacher!

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Guest Monday, 23 October 2017