The Lessons I Should’ve Taught – a teacher’s reflection

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If hindsight is always 20/20, then teachers have perfect vision

I say this because any good teacher knows how important it is to reflect (important enough that it is one of my life lessons). Throughout my career as an educator, there have been plenty of times where I have fallen flat on my face with a lesson. I would not be able to progress as a human without realizing that there was aspects of who I am I can change for the better, including realizing the words and lessons I should have taught.

The following letters are to "students" and the lessons I maybe should have spent more time teaching them. It is my hope that these letters show that the most important lessons that I can pass down very rarely are contained within a textbook. Before going forward I do want to acknowledge my old camp friend who suggested this format. Also, it is extremely important to note that none of the student names are real. However, their stores, and my concerns and regret for them, are very much real and true.

Dear Tyson,

My quietest student. My student who was most recluse. My student who would prefer to stay to solitary. And yet, I still put you in awkward situations for the sake of “growing you as a person”. I have no idea why I thought I was doing you a service. I don’t know why I thought I was changing the world. I don’t know why I couldn’t accept that some people just enjoy being alone, I am one of those people! But clearly I was making you uncomfortable by putting you in a group with talkers. I was not right for making you present an oral report. I could have adjusted, I could have differentiated. But for whatever reason, I didn’t. Every student is not built the same, and I should be more knowledgeable about this. You are fine the way you are. Change when you feel comfortable.

Dear Mona,

You are not your parents. We got off to a rough start and I allowed my opinion of your parents to affect our in-class relationship.I took that out on you, and you in turn were hostile to me. An entire year of butting heads all because neither one of us wanted to budge on this collision of strong-willed individuals. As the adult, I should have been better instead of holding you with contempt. Realizing that how my conversations with you could have gone better to repair our relationship. But I allowed my pride to dictate how I treated you. Sometimes, you have to put your pride to bed in order to get done what needs to be done correctly. I apologize for those times, I apologize on not being better.

Dear Allison,

I know grades at the time seem like the most important aspect of school. That is not the fault of you feeling the pressure to be perfect. Students who are “high honors” as elementary students often grow up with anxiety and depression, and I didn’t help that issue out at all. I wish I could spend more time talking about how education in this country emphasizes the wrong type of learning. Education is the training of the mind to think, to reason and to rationale. Your GPA, report card, and class rank seem like life or death. I can assure you that when you are older and you have settled into who you are your achievements in k-12 will not have a huge bearing on who you have become in life. I put too much pressure on you to be perfect, you are more than your grades and rank. You are more than the college that denies/accepts you. I was a fool for not realizing it sooner.

Dear Nikola,

The first time you told me about your mental health issues, I had no idea how to react. I didn’t want to overreact, but at the same time I didn’t want to simply treat you like some type of pariah. I confess I haven’t been trained in the best practices to help assist you with your mental health, because I wasn’t trained to help my own mental health. My intention was to never treat you like a ticking time-bomb that I had to defuse carefully. You are a regular person, with likes and dislikes similar to everyone else in my class. You also have limits, and that is the part I forgot too often. And when I forgot to respect those limits, that is when I ran into trouble. Be vocal about your limits and unapologetic about your fatigue. There’s nothing wrong with advocating for yourself, and that is what made you so strong.

Dear Patty,

I couldn’t get you to turn in homework if my life depended on it. But I kept on assigning. I kept you from recess, assemblies, enrichment, time and time and time again. I thought that by coming down on you harsh would get the message across. I tried being sweet about it, nothing. I tried being silly about it, nothing. Everything I tried was to no avail. The entire time I asked “what is wrong with this kid?” Never once considering, that once I have this homework all I do is look to see it is done and assign a check mark then turn it back to you all. Why did I make such a big deal about something I had no desire to provide feedback on? Why was I not practicing what I was clearly trying to preach at my class? Since teaching you, I have abandoned assigning homework. Because it is not useful for anyone, least of which is the student. There’s better ways to get feedback to students rather than some useless piece of paper that will be pitched as soon as it is returned. There’s more to life than being expected to follow order.

Dear Ronnie,

Oh Ronnie, my dear Ronnie. Hyper-active Ronnie. How I lament treating you like you were a problem. You were a child, not a machine built to receive commands and execute those commands 100%. I regret having all those conversations with your parents and the administrative team for weeks on end. I regret putting you in detention, taking away recess, shaming you over and over countless times. Looking over to you with such disgust and malice at you constantly wiggling in your seat. Not hurting anyone, but breaking what I thought was the “important” standard at the time. You were 9 and I expected you to behave like a seasoned veteran. With little to no room for autonomy and allowing yourself to grow as a person. Just respond to commands, no questions asked. I should have looked at you as the whole child first.

“I’ve made decisions that I regret, and I took them as learning experiences…I’m human, not perfect, like anybody else.”

Queen Latifah

Thanks for coming to class today. I want to be better because you deserve better. Thank you all so much, you are all dismissed.

Take care and Be Well,

-YFBF

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