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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 has grown his career and family from his native district. Sean again resides in the same county with his wife and their two young sons. He recently concluded his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for United States House of Representatives in New Jersey's 2nd Congressional District. Sean currently serves as an administrator at a school in Camden, NJ, where he focuses on the growth & development of teachers and building social & emotional skills with students. A Rutgers University graduate, Sean studied Communications. He later completed a graduate degree at the University of Scranton in Educational Administration and has spent almost a decade working in education.

As a result of connecting with people of all ages, ethnicities, cultures, and beliefs, Sean has learned how to listen and represent the interests of everyone. In order to help unite parents and educators, Sean is adept at innovating to solve problems.

Sean is an unwavering advocate for positive youth development and education. Growing up, Sean faced challenges financially and emotionally. The product of an unstable household and battling a significant learning disability, Sean has overcome many obstacles. School became both a place of refuge and a source of trouble for Sean. If not for certain extraordinary teachers and school faculty encouraging him, Sean would not have pursued higher education and would not have been able to impact his 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 his students’ future. 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.

In May of 2018, Sean and his community suffered the tremendous loss of a former student, Maurice Lewis, to senseless gun violence. After countless conversations with his friends, family members, and members of the community, they decided that they had to do something to honor his memory and the good that he did in his life. The idea of Reese's House, a whole-child youth center focused on the academic, physical, social, emotional, and mental well-being of kids with a strong emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship was born. To accomplish this, Sean created an educational 501(c)(3) nonprofit called Our Future First. The goal of the organization is to offer affordable professional development and growth opportunities in schools for educators and students while putting all profits to the purpose of creating Reese's House in our hometown of Millville, New Jersey.

  • 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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