Nine times the Bible says The Lord is slow to anger. I like all the references, but this one stuck out to me. Ex 34:6-7 ”The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger , abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children …NIV I heard the part of God being slow to anger is a song I had on while texturing our bathroom wall. While I held that soft, malleable clay in my hands, I remembered a conversation I had with one of my students this year in the hall. It went something like this:
Me: Hey bud – what’s up, you look like you’re carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. The young man shrugs and starts to just walk on by, then abruptly turns around.
Student: Mrs. Winter, I am just having a crappy day but I have a question for you. How come you’re the only teacher I have who seems to actually like their job?
Me: What do you mean? (in background – the loud bustle of students hurrying to class and teachers barking commands like military drill sergeants)
Student: All my teachers seem to hate their jobs because all they do is yell at us ..and I’m not exaggerating. All but you. You know, it’s really out of my way to come this way to my next class but it’s worth it because you always have a kind word or a smile. You have no idea how much I need that to keep me going till 6th period. Thank you! With that he scooted off to class leaving me stupefied and heartbroken at the same time. I honestly do not remember what my reply was other than “you’re welcome!” that followed after him down the hall.
For the rest of the day I became more aware of my surroundings in the hall. As students scurried off to class and we teachers stood guard – I heard either a mixture of “Good afternoon so and so” to “I SAID GET IN YOUR SEAT -NOW!” Granted not all my co-workers were barking orders, but the ones who did, drowned out the ones of us who politely greeted our students. Then I looked into my classroom and notice my kiddos either retrieving their folders from the cabinet or getting the handouts from back counter. Others are reading the Smartboard and beginning the bell work. By the time the tardy bell rings, most everyone is in their seat and quiet. Some call out “Hey Mrs. Winter!” My classes are far from perfect – trust me, but I’ve worked hard at creating that relatively cooperative and pleasant atmosphere. My mentor teacher told me once that our attitude creates the tone of the classroom. I believe it. Have I yelled at my students? Yes on occasion, but I try to make it a rarity because I honestly believe they tune me out when I yell. I am slow to anger. Besides, kids hear angry adults way too often. My daughter told me once that students really don’t respect teachers who yell all the time. Most students will shine and give their all for a teacher who truly shows that they care. Is that a simplistic, idealistic way of thinking? No. I heard an interview with an 40 year veteran in field of education stated pretty much the same thing after one of her teachers complained that none of the students did well on an assessment and she taught them everything – they must be stupid. The educator told her colleague – that’s not it – they just don’t like you. Students will not put forth effort to learn if they perceive you do not like them.
So am I saying we are to be their friend and “friend them” on Facebook? Absolutely not. I am saying have compassion on them. In a nutshell, my goal is to treat these squirrely 7th grade students I have the way I’d want to be treated. Or how I hope my children’s teachers treat them. The classes my kids excelled in the most and enjoyed the most were from the teachers who treated them with compassion. The second part of the verse is the key also. He does not leave the guilty unpunished. If you make a bad choice in my room, you pay the consequences – detention or office referral. Do the crime, do the time. Every year I have my frequent flyers who have detention with me at least once a week, or more. I know this year will be no exception.
So what point am I trying to make? Why are so many teachers angry? I seriously doubt that was their goal as they began their career. Well maybe some, those powertrip teachers who enjoy belittling students with caustic one liners and who enjoy verbally pummeling students into quiet, unresponsive submission. I imagine politics, state mandated standardized tests and other asinine things have a role in stealing the joy of teaching. So what! We choose our behavior right? Don’t we tell our students the same thing? Shouldn’t we practice what we preach? Honestly – if a teacher has so much perceivable anger that all her students see is someone who appears to not enjoy teaching –maybe they should get a different career. Our students are like clay and we have that ability to mold them with our words. It makes me cringe to think I’ll be the teacher my students hated in 7th grade. Of course I want them to learn my content, but not at the expense of loathing reading and writing. Getting a 7th grader to read is battle enough, why add to it with having a crappy attitude? Guess that’s why I have the reputation of being the “fun” teacher. So be it. At first that really bothered me and made me think my students are not “learning”. Well – since test scores are the true measure of learning (ha!) – I suppose my students are “learning”. You know what else they learned this year? That someone cares about them – warts and all. To me this all comes down to relationship. This year I was the subject of a former students Jr. English project based on the novel Tuesdays With Morrie. I wrote about that experience in My Constant http://nocoincidence63.wordpress.com/2013/02/10/my-constant/ so I won’t restate the whole thing again. Bottom line – he chose me based on the connection developed in the classroom. A dad recently told me that his son still thinks of me as his favorite English teacher. This boy will be a Freshman in college this year. I hear similar stories to this all the time and it is what keeps me going. I’ve already decided that if I ever become that angry, bitter teacher -I’ll quit.