The school district where I work has been in session for close to two months. By now, students and teachers have made some initial impressions upon, and opinions of, each other. Some are quiet positive and others, well, not so much.
I recently met a dear friend for tea. She told me about her daughter who started high school this year. Her daughter is a sweet, kind-hearted and intelligent young lady who takes school seriously. However, she encountered a teacher who interacted with her in a way she was not used to; grumpy and unfriendly.
Experiences like this are not uncommon. I hear similar stories frequently, especially in the beginning of the school year. For many students, the interaction with a non-warm-and-fuzzy teacher is startling and confusing, and they take it personally. However, working through these reactions is a gift. As adults we know that from time to time we will surely cross paths with people we don’t love, get along with , or even like very much. But we still have to work with them.
Common statements I hear from students are:
“My teacher hates me.”
“My teacher is so mean.”
“My teacher never smiles."
“My teacher makes me nervous.”
“My teacher is always in a bad mood.”
How do we make the best of these situations? Adolescent perspective taking is not always easy, or interesting to them for that matter. Teens are often focused on how the experience impacts them, not the teacher, and view the all-business approach as an affront to their personality or creativity.
What about the teacher, who is, in fact, just another human being with feelings and emotions like the rest of us? Perhaps that teacher really is a mean, grumpy person. But what about the many other possibilities: a personal home crisis; the student is doing something the teacher doesn’t like; a recent death in the teachers’ life; personal illness where they just don’t feel well; the previous class is particularly difficult and the teacher is tired, frustrated or irritated; or any other issue we may not be aware of.
Situations like this are good lessons in awareness, compassion, forgiveness, and giving the benefit of the doubt. One way to respond to these feelings of negativity is with positivity. Each teacher is different, and each class has different rules. It’s important to learn them. Enter the classroom each day with a smile or a “Hi Mrs. So-and-so.” Participate in the class. Do your work and behave as expected. Ask for help when needed. Be the positive student and person you are. Leave the classroom with a smile and a “good-bye” or “thank you”.
It’s surprising how quickly these acts of kindness rub off on others. Many times, one may find those actions come back to them ten-fold. A student might also take advantage of the teacher’s office hours or offerings for extra help. It’s important to let a teacher know when you’re having trouble. That could clarify so much right there. One-on-one or small group time is very different than large class time. I have seen it myself how much many teachers love when students come back even for just clarification. As a result, students and teachers see a different, more personal, side of each other.
Again, such positive responses may not make a change with the teacher, but then again it might make all the difference in the world. Either way, the student feels like he or she is making the best of the situation, and putting forth his or her best self. If nothing else, we generally feel better when we smile and offer compassion to others.
Over the years, I’ve seen individual students make drastic changes in teachers, simply by being kind. It makes the teacher feel good and empowers the student. They both wind up learning something new, and both make changes in their perceptions and behaviors of each other and the world. The best lesson is that we can respond this way with anyone who is showing negativity. We might be the one to change their day. Even if it doesn’t work right away – or ever - we certainly won’t make it worse by showing compassion and appreciation for another person.
Embrace the grumpiness. Show kindness. Spread the joy.