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The first one was Amy. She was 12, a sixth grader I had in my first full year of teaching. She had two good friends, Kelly and Chloe, and at the beginning of the year they were a unit. Amy-Kelly-Chloe. I liked all three of them. They had that maturity some sixth grade girls have, where you feel like there are other adults in the room besides you, kids who seem a little above the fray. When I gave assignments, I knew those three would get right to work, that I could count on them. And I noticed the way they looked at me—those gazes that hung on the things I said, too shy to ask me personal questions but always listening when I answered the ones the others asked. I was 26, still a “young” teacher. When I was their age I’d felt that way about some of my teachers, looked up to them, wondered things about them, like what their apartments looked like. It was pretty cool to be on the receiving end of that.
About halfway through the year, Amy started to dress differently*: Lower necklines, thicker mascara, heavier eye liner. In her class journal, she started mentioning a boyfriend, Rob. I didn’t know him. Her attendance was deteriorating, she spent less time with Kelly and Chloe, and her attitude changed. She didn’t try so hard in class, and when it was time to go to the library or start group work, she moved with less pep. I figured she was just becoming a teenager.
In early spring, I had lunch with Kelly and Chloe in my room—a reward for some kind of class contest. While we ate, I tried to socialize with them. This wasn’t easy; I could bond with students in class, but one-on-one, it was awkward. And Kelly and Chloe were not super chatty. After a few small-talky questions, I brought up Amy. Said I noticed they weren’t with her much lately.
That got them talking. Amy was dating a 21-year-old guy. Her mom was okay with it. He even spent the night at her house. Internally, I freaked out. I had a feeling Amy was already out of reach, but these two could still be saved. I told them it was probably a good thing they’d drifted apart, that it would be wise to keep their distance. I talked about the importance of choosing friends who made smart choices. I complimented their good sense, their good character. Soon, lunch was over. I patted myself on the back for being such an awesome mentor and assumed that was the end of it.
Well, it wasn’t the end. A few days later, Amy showed up late to class, with Kelly and Chloe in tow. When I told them I had to give them a tardy, Amy produced an excuse note from the office. As I took it, she glared at me with disgust. “Too bad you can’t get us in trouble,” she muttered, loud enough for the whole class to hear.
A couple of kids inhaled sharply; everyone else was dead silent. I wasn’t a “feared” teacher by any stretch: My kids fooled around plenty, but no one had ever been flat-out hostile. In the waiting quiet, Kelly and Chloe studied the floor. But Amy stared right at me.
I need to see you in the hall, I told her.
The next few minutes were horrible. A different, tougher teacher would have told Amy off right away, spelled out expectations, issued some kind of consequence. But I wasn’t tough. I started off okay, demanding she explain herself.
Through angry tears, Amy read me the riot act. Kelly and Chloe had told her everything. She couldn’t believe what I had done. “What kind of teacher talks about a kid behind her back to other kids?”
I couldn’t deny it. I tried to explain, saying I was worried about her, but it did no good. I apologized for hurting her feelings. Nothing got through. Her flushed, hateful stare only intensified. I told her she could stay out in the hall until she was ready to come in. Going back inside, I tried to straighten my face, to look like everything was under control, but I was shaken. I glanced at Kelly and Chloe, seeing them differently now. They’d had plenty to say about Amy the other day at lunch. Why did they turn it all around on me?
It didn’t matter. I was the adult. I should have known better.
Mark was second. Like Amy, he was more mature than his peers, which, in eighth grade, was something I appreciated. He got my jokes. Struck a nice balance between friendly and respectful. He already seemed to have a clear idea of who he was. And he did excellent work.
So I was surprised one day when he got a 65 percent on a quiz. It wasn’t like him. Then again, no one did well on that particular quiz. They weren’t ready. The next day, as I was returning the quizzes, I joked about it. “Man, this one was a doozy! We’re gonna have to go over this stuff a little more.” There were groans and laughter as students got their papers. Then I added, “Even Mark got a D, if you can believe that!”
Yep. Said that.
I had my reasons, sort of. I was trying to make them feel better. They knew Mark got fantastic grades. And Mark was so mature, so laid-back. He knew I thought he was great, right? He could take a little ribbing. I was so sure of this that when I made the comment, it didn’t occur to me that it would bother him.
But as he left class that day, he didn’t look over and say “see you later” like he usually did. He kept his eyes straight ahead. Stone-faced. No lopsided grin. It registered with me, but not for long. Middle school kids are moody, and that included Mark. I figured he had something on his mind and moved on with my day.
That afternoon, when he passed me on his way out, he ignored me again. This time I paid attention: Mark always, always threw me a friendly wave at the end of the day. No matter what. When he showed up the next day with the same stone face, I knew something had changed between us.
At the end of class, I asked him to stay back. At first, when I asked him if anything was wrong, he shrugged it off. But the evidence was right there in the way he looked at me—no smile or anything. So I asked again. Finally he said, “I just didn’t appreciate you announcing my grade to everyone yesterday.”
My jaw dropped. (Yes, I really hadn’t recognized what a jerky thing I’d done until that moment.) In an instant, it hit me that despite Mark’s outward confidence, he was no more immune to public embarrassment than any of his peers. I pictured myself at the front of my classroom the day before, flippantly tossing out Mark’s grade for the whole class to devour, laughing as I watched.
Denise and the Springfield women were third. This was less than two years ago, and it still stings.
Denise was a student in one of my college classes. I was excited to be teaching the Instructional Strategies course for the first time. The only wrinkle was, it was a distance learning course, the kind where I talked to a camera in one location, and my students watched me on video monitors at three other campuses, miles away. They could ask questions via microphone, but unless they had their button pressed, I heard nothing from them.
For the first time, I struggled to connect with my students. Although I also had a video-monitor view of their faces, the screen wasn’t big enough to show their expressions. It made it hard to get a sense of how well they were taking things in. Suddenly, I was struck by just how much the success of my teaching depended on visual feedback from my students.
Denise was at a location we’ll call Springfield. She was one of five women, the oldest—about the same age as me. On a “get to know you” form I gave all students, she told me she was nervous about returning to college after a 20-year break. I was excited to help build her confidence.
I’d chosen a challenging textbook that semester, and I expected them to struggle some, but I believed the concepts it taught were worth the trouble. At first, I thought everything was going okay. The questions that came over the monitor were polite, on-topic – it appeared they were keeping up. But then I started getting e-mails and phone calls, especially from Springfield. Some of them were having a hard time. I e-mailed back, called back, spending hours trying to help each of them. With every conversation, I thought I was making things better. I even drove out to Springfield one day and conducted class from there. Face to face, they were shy. Like it was the first day of school. They didn’t have a lot of questions. More than anything, they seemed uneasy with me being there. Still, I hoped showing up in person would help.
The e-mails and calls kept coming. One Springfield student told me that others were getting angry, especially Denise. I tried to reach her several times, and she finally responded with a long e-mail, telling me what had started all the trouble.
In one of our first classes, she told me, I’d asked her a question about the assigned reading. I was demonstrating a strategy called “No opt out,” from Doug Lemov’s book, Teach Like a Champion. I was showing them how you ask a student a question, and if they can’t answer it, you don’t allow them to say “I don’t know.” You either prompt them until they can answer, or you have another student answer, then come back to the first student and have them repeat the correct response. When I did this with Denise, I’d heard some laughter over the monitor, and she did eventually answer the question, but in the e-mail, she said she’d felt publicly humiliated, and never quite got over it.
I called her. We talked it over, I apologized for making her feel singled out, explained that it was a new strategy for me and I never intended to embarrass her. When I hung up, I felt like the problem was solved.
It wasn’t. The e-mails and calls kept coming from Springfield. Students in other sections started talking about it. From my most raw, sensitive core, a voice I tried to ignore was asking over and over, Why don’t they like me? I’d been teaching college for three years, with outstanding evaluations from students. Why did this particular group dislike me so much? In private, they kept saying how confused they were, but in class, no one asked a single question.
My defensiveness came out one day while I was explaining a new assignment. I started with the basics—showing them where on the document to record their students’ grade level, subject, and lesson title. Then I looked directly at the camera and said, “Got that, Springfield?”
I knew I was being unprofessional. I couldn’t stop myself. I added more sarcasm. “Just want to make sure you’re getting this.”
On the monitor, their five faces just stared back at me. I could only imagine what they were saying under their breath.
It got to the point where I felt knots in my stomach whenever class time approached. The e-mails from Denise grew hostile. Speaking for her entire section, she told me a good instructor would do something if every one of her students was having trouble. My defensiveness grew. I looked more closely at the work of the Springfield students. Two had A averages, the other two had high B’s, and Denise had a C. Apparently, not everyone in Springfield was struggling. In the next class, I announced that students could re-do any assignment for a higher score. I also pointed out that almost everyone had either an A or a B, and only a few had C’s. With the last few remaining assignments, it was certainly possible to end the semester with everyone in the A or B range.
A few minutes later, after starting everyone on a group activity, my classroom phone rang. Did I mention we had phones? Students from the remote campuses could call me during class if they wanted to talk privately.
It was Denise.
“I just want to say that I know what you’re doing,” she said, “and I think it’s disgusting.”
I looked up at my monitors. No one was paying attention to me. Which was good, because the camera was still on me, and my heart was racing.
I turned away from the camera and spoke in a low voice. “Denise, what are you talking about?”
“Oh, don’t even try,” she hissed. “You know exactly what you’re doing. Telling everyone my grade like that. I can’t believe you.”
I don’t remember the rest of the conversation. For another ten seconds, she kind of screeched at me. Then she hung up. I held on to the phone a while longer, not willing or able to face the camera.
I spent the next few days looking through university policies, to see if some kind of disciplinary action could be taken. Surely a student couldn’t talk to an instructor like that and get away with it. But I found nothing that fit—she hadn’t threatened me or been violent. She hadn’t even used profanity.
For the rest of the semester, I went on auto-pilot. I was excessively professional. I didn’t interact with Denise unless I had to, and then only in writing. I was more lenient with everyone’s grades and made sure my end-of-year review covered every single thing on the exam. Nothing was going to make this better, but I could try my hardest not to make it any worse.
I’m sure there were more. I taught over a thousand students ranging from age eleven to fifty-five. Surely there were others whose feelings I hurt, who felt wronged, who felt ignored, who didn’t find me to be their cup of tea. But these three stuck, because they let their feelings be known. And as much as it hurt, I’m grateful to them, because I learned from each one.
From Amy, I learned that if I have a concern about a student, I should go to them directly. It’s awful to hear that people are talking behind your back, and to have an adult do it must be devastating. For the rest of the year, Amy never warmed up to me again. Her attendance and her grades continued to drop. That summer she moved, and I never heard from her again. I still think if I’d handled things differently, I might have gotten through to her.
Mark accepted my apology with grace, and soon we were back on friendly terms, but I was careful to never again overestimate my students’ confidence. Even the most well-liked, accomplished kid may not have the self-assurance to withstand his mistakes being broadcast. A cheap joke isn’t worth losing someone’s trust. Now I try to err on the side of shutting my mouth.
And what did I learn from Denise? When I consider her story alongside the other two, I see one thread that runs through them all.
Ego. On both sides, ego is what caused all the trouble.
Without intending to, I wounded each student’s ego significantly, and when you do that to someone, they never forget it. Denise told me at the beginning of the semester that her confidence was fragile. I just didn’t realize how much. I never intended to embarrass her early on, but once I did, she felt threatened at every turn. That’s going to happen sometimes, and the best thing I can do is not take it personally.
And this is where we come to my own ego, which played an even bigger role in all three cases.
I hate to admit it, but I think I did know what I was doing when I talked about those A’s, B’s and C’s on camera that day. I wanted to send Denise a message, to defend myself against her claims that everyone was lost and confused.
At my lunch with Kelly and Chloe, my ego was working, too. At first, three girls were worshippy with me; then there were just two. To preserve what I still had, I tried to be the wise female mentor, offering sage advice Kelly and Chloe would remember forever and tossing out Amy’s trust in the meantime.
Even with Mark, ego got in my way. Those low quiz scores told me something had gone wrong, and I was trying to gloss over it by getting a laugh, by being cool.
It’s hard to write all this down. These stories definitely don’t make me look good, and they don’t represent most of my time in the classroom. I share them because I suspect some of you have had moments you’re not proud of, stories you’ve never told anyone, and I want you to know you’re not alone. One of the hardest things about being a teacher is the incredible vulnerability of it; the more you care about your students, the more they can hurt you. You can respond to this by caring less about your students and about what people think about you in general. Plenty of people do just that.
Or you can get better at noticing when your ego is starting to mess with you, then wrestle that sucker down and pin it to the ground. For your students’ sake, and your own. ♦
Update, September 16, 2015:
Since writing this post, several readers have pointed out a serious mistake I made in one of the situations I describe above. In the first story, I failed to recognize that Amy was quite possibly a victim of statutory rape, in which a minor child has a sexual relationship with an adult. This is a reportable offense, just like cases of child abuse or neglect, and my failure to report it meant that it was allowed to continue. To learn more about how statutory rape is defined in the U.S., read Statutory Rape: A Guide to State Laws and Reporting Requirements, published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and Statutory Rape: What Teens Should Know, published by the pro bono law firm Public Counsel. And for similar information for Canada, read Professional Advisory: Duty to Report, published by the Ontario College of Teachers. You may also be interested in listening to this interview between Canadian teacher Kristen Schmidt and Justice Marvin Zuker about teachers’ duty to report suspected child abuse.
* In the original version of this post, I used a different word here, but in April of 2016, a reader pointed out that the use of the word was offensive and contributed to an overall culture of slut-shaming. I happen to agree with her, and I feel this further continues my reflection on how we view our students. I urge you to scroll down and read Dallja’s comment.
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Wow! This is a wonderful piece. Life is one lesson after another. You seem to be as good a student as you are a teacher. Your shared stories and personal insight offer an authentic glimpse into the life of an educator– a caring, talented, and self-aware educator. You. 🙂
Thanks so much for that, Claire. These were all pretty painful events for me, but sharing them helps alleviate that a little. I’m really glad you liked it.
why do youmshaire students personal stuff like that online????
When sharing stories, privacy is always something to take seriously. This is why Jenn changed the names of those involved and shared things that actually happened decades ago, so there really is very little chance that identities would be discovered. By sharing these kinds of stories, it sort of helps everybody to understand and maybe avoid making the same mistakes Jenn felt she made. Mostly, Jenn was just really hoping to help other teachers avoid these kinds of situations.
I am so incredibly grateful to have stumbled across this post. I am a newly qualified teacher and i had an awful incident today in which a bad report hurt a student and i fear that i didnt deal with the situation as well as i should of. This really helped me to see how myself and the students egos were involved and how important it is to reflect
Laura, thank you for sharing your experience and how this post helped you through it. I will be sure to pass on your comments to Jenn, as well.
You handled it well
People are too sensitive about names. Face it, some people (both male and female) are “sluts.” Some people are fat slobs. Some people have filthy, disgusting habits. Those among us who are perpetually offended have coined phrases like “slut shaming” and “fat shaming.”
I find the word ‘slutty’ unnecessary/judgemental and yes offensive. When the word is used it infers ‘a woman that sleeps with more than one man ‘ – it doesn’t have a relationship with males in the same way. It perpetuates the perception that women that sleep with more than one man are doing something wrong. And when used with the accompanying language that refers to makeup and the way the student was dressing – it also adds to the perception that what you wear can somehow be blamed for what happens to you. (I by no way mean that in this article the author meant that – but the use of those words perpetuates the disparity between males’ and females’ sexual activity and the judgement of what one looks like is a factor in actions made against that person. Hopefully this makes sense.
It does. Thanks for exploring this issue more here, Ngairr.
I find it very fitting and I also applaud you for having the courage to be open without sugar coating anything. It helps immensely and I’m very grateful to have found your blog//podcasts.
Thank you, Erin.
Thank you for your honesty. As I first year teacher I often hear how important it is to reflect on each and every decision or comment that you make. To bear your soul to help others grow in their own reflection is admirable. I would be dishonest if I said that I didn’t make many mistakes each and every day. As a math teacher I can say with certainty that we learn from our mistakes!!
Thank you so much for this article. I’m on my eighth year teaching, have had over a thousand students, and have always been the favorite at my school. Recently a student hates me because of a poorly worded sentence on my part. I’ve apologized, held a parent, student, teacher conference, and done everything I can to gain back this girl to no avail. All I can do is continue to be positive and kind, but I fear this girl is lost to me. Thank you for showing me I’m not alone in this.
Thank you for writing this and being so open about situations that you aren’t proud of. I am a new teacher. So far my only cringe-worthy moment was when I insinuated to a first grade class that elves aren’t real. (don’t worry…I saved it by saying “oh…except for santa’s elves. I forgot about them!”) But I have plenty of these types of cringe-worthy stories from other parts of my life and they are SO hard to let go and get over. You sharing some of yours makes it s little easier to swallow my own. I guess we all have those moments.
Omg! I’m going through this right now. I had a student hate me so much i had to have him removed from my class for fear he would hurt himself or me. I’ve had a few others, but this year has been the worst. I cried so much.
I thank you for every word you wrote, for your honesty, for what happened after, for giving me the opportunity to learn from you. I am grateful. Now I do wonder how administration gets into the mix and what they do. And, as for statutory rape – in Alberta, Canada, if a 14+ year old child and adult are intimate by their consent with the parent’s permission – it is allowed and no Social Services Services will become involved. Sad. As for what you shared, again, thank you.
I’m 8 minutes into listening to this and still no strategies to use. I’m not finding this helpful.
Hi Bob. My intention with this post was just to share my experiences with the hope that others would see themselves in my story and begin to understand the mistakes they made themselves. If you kept listening, I’m sure you found that I didn’t make good choices in any of these situations, but I learned what NOT to do in the future.
Coincidently, Bob is reminding me of the type of student who doesn’t participate in class, spends the entire time on their phone, and sits there passively expecting more from you while you’re up there doing your best with great enthusiasm.
This post is so open and authentic. I really appreciate that you were willing to talk about such a hard topic. Many people don’t like putting negative things out there. But they happen! And the only way to learn from them is to share and grow together!
Thank you, Cassie! I have always appreciated hearing people’s least flattering stories. It helps us all to feel more normal.
I appreciate your honesty – the first story struck a chord with me, and it helps to consider it as a learning experience. We all say things we wish we hadn’t; it’s a field in which we talk ALL DAY LONG and there are lots of opportunities to mess up. Thanks for sharing your stories!
No kidding! I’ve often said that if you’re not comfortable with failure, teaching is not the profession for you, because you basically fail in some way EVERY DAY. Thanks for your comment, Chrissy!
Wow! I can just imagine how painful that must have been to write, to put out to the world to see… and THANK YOU for it. I completely agree with Chrissy – we all mess up from time to time, and the important thing is to grow and to learn from it. I’m very proud of your strength, bravery and ability to self-reflect.
Thanks, Tammy. That means a lot to me.
Wonderful post, Jennifer. I struggle with transparency when I write, but your transparency kept me riveted throughout your piece. And I have made all of these kinds of mistakes with my various students through the years. This is a great overall reminder to be authentic and humble with the souls we have been entrusted with.
Thanks, Laurie. It’s a relief to hear other people say they have made the same mistakes. Part of me was a little worried that readers would just think I was a jerk and then maybe I’d never get another teaching job again!
Thank you so much for sharing this story, I don’t think it was easy to share. I have made some of those exact mistakes and learned similar lessons along the way. Even after teaching for 20 years, I find myself learning lessons from my students about respect and motivation. Never stop learning!
Thank you, Shannan. It’s funny, because having written this, I know I will probably screw up again despite having reflected and shared. It’s just human nature, I guess. I found that the apologies were really the only shot I had at redemption in those cases. Sometimes we have to learn the same lessons over and over again!
Sometimes we need to sit back and let our minds be quiet, while we ponder the day – what went well, and what may/may not have made a difference in our relationships with students and colleagues. I walk my dogs verry early in the morning, and think about anything untoward I may have done – many times it’s for naught – but I always figure a solution, or someone to whom I can speak to unfurl those knots. I find speaking to the students and apologizing, and asking them to “cue” me in the future should I be headed in the wrong direction can help. I have made public apologies before, as well. No one is infallible. These are life’s little lessons. Your first tale, I would have phoned home, after speaking privately with the student. The last student I would have called, as well, and then done a public apology – once done you feel vulnerable yet strong. The second one you handled quite well.
I’m encouraged by your stories. They are those of every teacher – if they admit them or not.
Tony, I am all too familiar with those knots. Sometimes I can’t even figure out why I have them, and I have to do the same kind of reviewing to figure it out. I so agree with you about apologizing. I think some people see it as a sign of weakness, but I think it’s just the opposite. Thanks so much for commenting.
Your post reminds me of my last group. There were three teenagers who were definetely racist, and as if this wasn’t enough, they wanted everyone to know that, specially me, a BLACK TEACHER. Once, one of them asked me why I kept my smoothy and flowing hair always in a bun?? Yes, she dared to ask me using these words, but in Portuguese, I’m Brazilian. Since I noticed all she wanted was to embarass me in front of all class, I couldn’t lose the opportunity to mock at her. I said that unless she underwent an ear plastic surgery and lost some pounds, I woudn’t answer her question. I was lucky she is fat and has some “floppy ears”, (I don’t know if the expression is correct).
Well, as expected, all her classmates joined me and laughed a lot at her, and sincerelly, I didn’t feel bad. I think that sometimes we must put students in their place. We must make them aware they can say or do whatever they want to, but they also must bare in mind the consequences for their actions. I won’t see her anymore because now I have another job, not because of this “incident”.
Now that some time passed, I know that it wasn’t the ideal answer. I know that my answer for her racist question was also discriminatory. But I don’t regret.
I’m happy, becasue she will never forget me, and maybe, she’ll be more careful whenever she thinks about approaching a black teacher this way.
Wow…Wow. I doubt she thinks any more highly of you, you probably just confirmed her negative thoughts in her mind. Such a poor way to use a learning opportunity with a child. Grow up.
I can almost bet you her asking why you wear your hair in a bun is not racist.
Even when we don’t make egregious mistakes with our students, I think being hated by students is one of the “occupational hazards” of teaching. Very tough when you’re a teacher who likes to be liked. I find, also, that students can “turn on a dime;” i.e. you’ve been getting along great with one of them and you do one thing that they don’t like and boom–you are on their hate list. The one thing I always do with every student, no matter what our relationship is, is work on “catching them being good.” I seek out every possible opportunity to compliment and/or thank students for anything positive they’ve done in their work or in being a good “school citizen.” (I don’t know why I am using so many phrases that need quotation marks!) I teach at-risk high school students who have never head nearly enough positive relationships and/or experiences in their lives, so this is my small way of trying to put a few more positive vibes in their lives (and hopefully keep our relationship decent).
(coming to the thread late, I know)
You didn’t mention it, but another common thing in all three stories was violating confidentiality. Something we all do now and then without meaning to.
What bothers me more is that you had reason to believe Amy was a victim of statutory rape, her mother encouraged it, and you dealt with it by telling her friends to stay away from her? When I was 15 I had a friend who bragged that she had a “boyfriend” a married man, and how wonderful it all was. Years later she told me that wasn’t how she felt about it at all. Were you expected to report such things, and did you?
Finally, I’m appalled at Talita’s attitude. For an adult, especially one in a a position of authority to respond to childish insults with more childish insults is not putting anyone in their place, it’s simply lowering yourself and setting a bad example.
Hi Susan — you’re absolutely right. Confidentiality was definitely an issue. Another way I broke their trust in me.
As for the statutory rape issue, I’m embarrassed to admit that it did not occur to me to report it. Not only that, but I never even approached Amy with concern about her situation or treated her with care. I assumed that she was already too far gone and put my energy into “saving” her peers. I think for me at the time, it was more about my own self-image, my own ego, and I didn’t take enough of a grown-up approach to her. For some people, or at least for me, I spent a lot of years walking around like an adult, but in some ways I didn’t really act like one. I know my response was really awful, and I only hope that others reading this will take a different approach when faced with similar situations.
I don’t recall getting any formal training on how to handle these situations, by the way. Any training I’ve had in reporting abuse (which was often a 10-minute “mention” during overall employee orientations) emphasize physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect — all of which this falls into, I realize, but it would have helped if those doing the training would have provided us with lots of specific examples of situations that some of us might not have realized fit the definition of abuse. Overly permissive parenting, for some teachers, may not set off a red flag the same way other forms of abuse would. I don’t know if I’m making sense; I guess I’m trying to figure out what my thinking was at the time.
Thanks for your comment, Susan. You’ve given me more to think about.
What the author did to Amy is criminal.
1) Twelve year olds can’t give consent.
2) An adult is not allowed to have a romantic relationship with a child.
3) You did nothing.
In fact, this article is still all about the author’s ego. There isn’t a shred of insight here. The author’s lack of insight into Amy’s suspected abuse is troubling: this doesn’t even appear on her radar, even in hindsight!
Jennifer, stop making excuses for failing to protect Amy. It has nothing to do with your lack of training, it has everything to do with your ego. You were so concerned about her perception of you, that it turned you into a gossip and completely disregarded her needs. What you did was criminal and unconscionable. I encourage you to focus your next reflection and writing on the prevalence of childhood sexual abuse, and mandated reporting laws, as to prevent this awful mistake from being replicated.
Thanks for the suggestion for a future post.
I guess I’m not seeing how it’s still about my ego now. The whole point of this article is that I was definitely, in no uncertain terms, an asshole, being led totally by ego. I don’t know what else I could have added in the article or in the comments that would have made that any clearer.
The article fails to mention that Amy was a victim of child abuse, and a secondary victim of your neglect.
I’m astounded that only one other reader noticed this.
Please let this be an example you never repeat. Amy was failed terribly. Please be a beacon for our children now.
I am in the process of researching mandatory reporting and statutory rape laws and working on an article that will provide information and resources for teachers, so that other teachers can go into this next school year with full awareness of this issue. I think it will be especially helpful for middle and high school teachers. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.
If you know of any good resources on this subject, especially websites I should look at or include as links in the article, please let me know. You can send me a private message via our contact form or just add the information as a comment here.
Yeah, I think she is aware. No need to be judgmental here.
I cannot believe the content of this post. You are an adult. They are students in your care. Try to imagine if your children’s teachers treated them in this way. I’m completely appalled as a parent and a teacher.
Hi there. I am also appalled at the choices I made in each of these situations. At the time I made them, I was tending to my own ego, but they all caused lasting damage and hurt all three students. I absolutely regret each one. I thought that was clear from the post, and I hope that by sharing these experiences, I can help others avoid the same mistakes.
I just don’t agree that you were being an asshole.
Oh my goodness! Why do you feel that it is your place to make such negative judgements? We are here to share our experiences and help each other!
Yes she should have talked directly to Amy, but that didn’t happen. Lesson learne. Second, all she had was information from her friends about Amy’s 21 year old boyfriend. Hearsay. Reports can’t be made on hearsay (I was a child advocate for years before starting my teaching career). More information was needed before reporting. Had the accusations been false then there is a whole other can of worms with the parents that just got opened.
and thank you for an immediate and thoughtful reply.
My year is almost over, but the hate from one of my six classes has been palpable. I wanted to say I haven’t done anything to deserve this attitude. It’s just like being bullied every day. It’s not one or two kids, it’s most of the class. I still wanted to blame the kids for their immaturity and bad upbringing, but I must now face that my ego had to play a part. I can’t remember where this started, but I see myself in your transparent story. This is going to take more reflection to understand what happened.
Hi. It hurts a little to read your comment — I can tell you’re still in the middle of it. I’m so sorry. It’s a terrible feeling and makes it really hard to go to work every day. What I can tell you right now is that you’re definitely not alone — one of the most common search terms that brings people to this site are phrases like “my students hate me.” I think you’re right about needing more time and reflection to understand it. I hope that when you get that clarity you’ll come back and share it with the rest of us. Until then, be well.
I really enjoyed the honesty in this post. We’ve all made mistakes in our teaching, and when you add in all the personalities we see, each with their own backgrounds, hang ups and problems, our chances of inadvertently hurting feelings is pretty high.
There is a small handful of students who have really, really hated me in my 21 years of teaching, and it definitely stings no matter how much time passes. I think it was extremely brave of you to share your pain with your readers, and I’m sorry that there were some who felt this was just cause to open fire on your decisions that you’ve already admitted (in retrospect) were flawed. You responded with such grace, though. You’re a better woman than I am!
When we know better; we do better. Right? If only each of our students came with a manual…
Thank you for sharing your experiences,
Thanks so much, Sharon. I’m really glad to have you here!
As someone in school to become a teacher, I love reading articles and blogs and PDFs – anything that I can learn from and use to help facilitate learning, while also being a good human being and role model within my area of influence. I’ve been article surfing on this site, and I really enjoy reading what you write. While I was reading this piece, the immediate emotional response I felt was, “Wow, I would hate to have her as my teacher.” Then I thought for a second and realized that you (just like every other person) have good days and bad days, that you (just like every other person) make mistakes, and that you (just like every other person) should not be judged by your worst moments. It was that repeated “just like every other person” that really struck me – I’m going to have good and bad days, and will make mistakes, and so will the people I work with, and so will my students.
Taking a step back and evaluating my initial response really helps me to rewire my way of thinking, and definitely helps underscore the need to see everyone as complex, contradictory, and as human as I am. Thank you for reminding me of how important that is.
Thanks for this response, Jeanne-Anne. I really don’t love sharing such an ugly story, but my hope is that people will take some lessons from it. In each situation, I was guided by my own ego, and my guess is that a lot of cruelties are committed for similar reasons, sometimes without the person realizing it when they’re in the moment.
I’m glad this had an impact on you, and that you’re enjoying the site. Please comment some more!
Um, no offense, but . . . I LOVED this post! What honesty. I think the only way we can improve as teachers is by practicing honest self-reflection, and you nail it here. I have grown by doing this . . . and I have also made some of these exact mistakes. I realize that I am not saying anything different than any of the other commenters have, but I just wanted to say that this post is a model of self-reflection.
Thank you for taking the time to write this. As you can see, I did get mixed reactions to this post, and it turns out I have grown from this experience even years later. I’m really glad you liked it.
Thanks for sharing. Your blog seems to constantly be synced with my life or something! I have had a similar experience recently with a couple students and I can totally sympathize with your candid stories of a “lesser version of oneself” (that’s my code word for the times when I reflect that, ah, I could have made a better choice there…). I’m quite impressed you would share what is probably a pretty common occurrence – not being liked by a student. Face it, sometimes students just do not see us as being on their side when we insist on correct spelling or punctuation.. or homework being on time…gee, why is that? It has bothered me deeply at times that I care so much. Or that I felt pretty embarrased to even share my concerns with other teachers. Some consider it a badge of honor to be hated. I say, “ugh” to that, but at the same time, I’m not a doormat.
It can be hard to be the adult and keep back a cutting remark…especially when a student seems to have no problem being out-of-line themselves. Again, thanks for being so open and my condolances when you have to read some of these aggressively nasty replies. Keep keeping on. You help me stay sane and you shore me up when I am emotionally fried. Thanks, M
Thanks for writing. I’m so glad this resonated with you; it’s the exact reason I chose to share these stories, so people don’t feel like they are the only ones. Your comment motivates me to keep sharing, so thank you again.
Thank you so much for sharing your foibles with us. I am new to your site and I am SOOOO glad I found it! I love your humor, your insight, your directness, your choice of vocabulary and descriptiveness and also your honesty. It takes a strong and confident person to admit and share her mistakes. I apologize for others in this thread whose responses were accusatory and negative. I recognize and acknowledge your intended purpose for this post. Thank you so much for this reminder to be more reflective and cautious in our classrooms. I appreciate you! Keep the wisdom coming!
Chiquita, thank you. I really appreciate you taking the time to comment here, and to know that you understood the point of this piece. Have a great night.
Hi Jennifer – I found your blog years ago and have loved everything it offers. I think it’s where I heard about and signed up for Joe Truss’ Dismantling White Supremacy in Schools? Which was awesome.
Anyway, this post in particular exemplified something I’ve always found troubling in our profession. We are SO loathe to share our failures that we end up feeling isolated and like everyone else is doing it right and we just don’t know how to do it. We are missing opportunities to really share and learn from each other and to feel human and okay doing the thing we love. And all the negative, judge-y, fingerpointing comments you received are exactly why we don’t share – who needs to be told, again, how wrong we were when we share something that we know went wrong?
Anyway, longwinded and years late, but just wanted to thank you for all your work, and this post in particular. Teaching is not a collection of strategies, it’s figuring out your humanity with hundreds of other humans everyday, all year.
Juliet, thank you so much for sharing – lots to think about here. I’ll make sure Jenn sees this – I know she’ll appreciate it.
I agree. The whole point is that she shared her vulnerability and following FERPA and whatever else is difficult every moment of every day. She realized that announcing someone’s grade was wrong, she doesn’t need anyone to point it out.
Thank you, Jennifer.
I ached a little at this one. The other side of ego protection is that desire to keep from exposing hurts and mistakes and look weak. Brave for you to share, and relieving to know it’s not just me.
Thanks, Bill. Yeah, these aren’t stories I’m proud of, but if someone else had share similar stories with me before I’d gone into teaching, I probably wouldn’t have made these mistakes. I hope this does the same for someone else. I’m glad to know this piece resonated with you.
The podcast episode was very difficult to listen to from the perspective that it’s hard to be vulnerable in front of a group of students and then to “blow it” with several of them that stick out hurts us deeply inside. You said it when you wrote that the more you love your students the easier it is to hurt you. The opposite is also true. We can hurt our students just as easily.
Not knowing laws and rules regarding possibly abusive relationships also makes us as teachers question ourselves at times. It was evident listening to the end of your podcast that you were struggling with the comments that were made and how cutting they were. Thank you for sharing your 3 stories, as I have an even greater count of students who probably hated me. Reflecting on these stories is sometimes difficult, but helps us in our teaching journeys into the future.
Thank you so much for your wonderfully authentic story. Only a teacher knows how much courage it takes to speak about these conflicts. I would LOVE to have you as a teacher because of your honesty and personality!!!
Thank you so much for writing this post. I’m only in my third year teaching, yet I still want to believe that I’m improving. At the same time, I can’t help but feel I’m making the same mistakes–let alone having at least 1 antagonistic relationship with a student each year. Granted, each of these students had rotten relationships with all or most of their teachers, but it really is hard to not take things like that personally. Your reflection about egos definitely resonated with me, particularly with the expectation of teacher-student relationships being almost like a power-play. Because teachers shouldn’t tolerate profanity or rude comments, they should get the last word and issue consequences to the student. However, that almost always escalates into an untamable argument. So to be honest, I can completely relate to everything you talked about in this post, but I’m still wondering about concrete strategies. What would you do with a student who has been hostile with you from the start? Even after trying to speak with him/her one-on-one and contacting parents and other staff?
As a substitute teacher, I have encountered just about every form of student hate there is. From having pencils thrown at my head to being lied about to the principal as causing some sort of problem just to make trouble for me. As a sub, it goes with the territory.
But, it also comes with some wonderful moments with terrific students who make my day and make me smile. Guess it’s all part of the job!
I’ve taught college on and off for 7 years, and I’ve made some of the same mistakes. One thing you should be aware of about grades is that telling people about someone’s grade is a violation of a US Federal Law, FERPA – Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. In college, you can only talk to a student about their grade, not their parent, if they are over 18, unless you have written permission from the student. You’re not even supposed to email their grade or talk to them over the phone unless you recognize their voice, because those are not “secure” methods of communication. (This info came from my dean.) I had one really bad class my first year of teaching, and being new, I didn’t think twice about leaving out exams for students to pick up. Well this is a violation of FERPA because other people could see a grade while they are looking for theirs. This makes giving back papers to a class of 100 or even 50 really difficult and time consuming.
I don’t think exam scores qualify as an educational record per a 2010 Supreme Court ruling”
“The court’s decision in Owasso Independent School District v. Falvo, No. 00-1073, was its first ruling on the 1974 law, which is usually known as the Buckley Amendment. Although it definitively resolved the precise issue, the court sidestepped other questions raised by the law, including the definition of education records — all the court held today is that a student-graded paper is not one — and whether individuals can sue under the law in the first place.”
The court did not decide whether grades on individual papers, once turned in to the teacher, were records, or whether the teacher’s own grade book could be a record. Justice Kennedy said there was a suggestion in the law that the word ”records” applied to those kept in a centralized filing cabinet or ”on a permanent secure database, perhaps even after the student is no longer enrolled.”
So records is still up in the air, but this might help your distribution dilemma.
Forgot the NY Times link:
Hi Jennifer, I thought this article was great. I’m in my mid 20s and I work with at-risk youth (though in a residential environment). One of my constant struggles is taking it personally when a kid doesn’t like me or “turns” on me. I also struggle with not being one of the staff members in our facility who all of the kids just “love so much”. It makes me ask myself, on almost a daily basis, if it reflects something wrong with me personally. It helps to read that this is a common experience and also probably one that, in all reality, I’ll most likely struggle with throughout my career. I suppose the hope is that we get better at dealing with it.
Just to mirror what so many others have said already I’m so appreciative of your honesty Jennifer. I shudder to think about how many situations I’ve mishandled as a teacher in my twelve years so to see you be so transparent is encouraging. Most teachers don’t deserved to be demonized or canonized, just humanized and that’s what this piece does. I hope this gives all of us permission to own our mistakes.
Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for writing your stories and your honesty. I just learned so much in your post. I teach middle school and I will remember everything, EVERYTHING you said. I needed to read this. Your stories will stick with me through out my teaching career.
Hey Jennifer! I am so far behind in my comment replies, but I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to write. I’m so glad this post resonated with you. Be well.
I’m so glad I found this blog. I am a new substitute teacher and made my first sharp-tongue comment last week. Your blog is helping me let go of my mistake and help me move forward and able to teach these students again in the near future. Thank you so very, very much.
Thank you very much for sharing these stories. I learnt from the mistakes that you are so brave to share and learn how not to hurt my students’ feeling. I hope you can write and share more to help teacher become better
I’m so glad it helped, Viet. I think we can all learn a lot from each other’s mistakes, as long as we are willing to talk about them honestly.
I can’t imagine how hard it is to write a post like this. Thank you for taking time to put yourself out there like this. We can all learn from our mistakes! I’m student teaching now, have subbed in the past, and have felt my own insecurities and ego flare up in the face of conflict. Pausing and reflecting on our actions and when
Thank you, Christa. I appreciate you taking the time to write. Student teaching is a prime time for these kinds of ego-driven missteps. I hope you learn a lot this semester. Good luck!
I commend you for your courage to share about these encounters. I have gone through years of similar incidents and to this day have believed it was just me. Working with young ones is a challenge most adults do not care to take on. I see many young faces in ministry and in the schools and I know we are still growing. To hear that you faced these challenges since your early 20s speaks to me and in turn, serves like a relief! I think we can continue to grow and improve our skills to tend to these learning minds and hearts, and hope that for every one child we may have not done our best, we may still have influenced many more. I really believe these are life lessons for those on both ends-I pray that these dark memories may drive those we have hurt to try and avoid those mistakes, as we continue to work on our mistakes and give our best next time. Thank you for your honesty.
Thank you for taking the time to write, Lucero. It means a lot to me to know that my words here have resonated with you.
Thank you for your openness and honesty! There are so many situations, which are hard to separate yourself from emotionally as a caring teacher and hard to learn how to still be genuine, but disconnect enough to think carefully about your responses. I appreciate your use of the ego perspective on this, because I think it will make me think about my reactions and remember it’s not about me. Students, parents and even colleagues can be critical of teachers like you document in your stories, when you weren’t trying to be mean. I appreciate too the reflection to find the root of why you said those things, as they were not meant to hurt.
Love your honesty and openness. With 16 years experience I have had some similar experiences. One sort of like Amy except that the girl didn’t confrtong me she just quietly and awkwardly stared. I have had the Mark situation before too. But we learn and press on. Thanks for sharing!
This is a poignant piece full of honesty and authentic experiences. As a veteran teacher of 15 years, I appreciate how you willingly shared these stories, and how you learned how to move forward inspiring others. Of this I am certain, there are countless tales of positive experiences to conter these painful memories. Yet, we learn and grow from mistakes. You are not alone!
Thank you so much for posting this. I had run in with students all three of my first years teaching. It’s was exceptionally hard to face it but overall good relationships with the kids and my administration helped. At the same time, you can feel very inadequate when you are going through it.
Thanks for sharing.
Wow. This was a powerful and uncomfortable story to read. Thank you for sharing. I am new to your blog and devouring it all. I am in my 22nd year teaching 5th grade, and it’s been one of my hardest due to lack of motivation, confidence, and attention issues. I usually have 2-3 students like this every year….but this year it’s 8 kids, and I’m exhausted. I would love to pick your brain or read your thoughts on having students who don’t care enough to literally do ANYTHING in my class. I’m ELA/Social Studies and I teach all social studies objectives with ELA integrated. This story resonates with me bc I have been angrier this year with 10 year olds and I can’t seem to make any progress with this handful of kids. Your defensiveness in the 3rd story resonated with me, bc I feel that way, too. More of why can’t I get these kids motivated. Anyway…a long rambling comment to say thank you for what you put in your blog. I’m finding it inspiring and encouraging to be reflective.
Hey, thanks so much for your comment. I just recently wrote a post on student motivation — if you haven’t seen it yet, take a look: http://cultofpedagogy.com/student-motivation/
This was awesome! It always stinks when you have 1 or 2 students that don’t like you. It can make teaching the entire class feel awkward. Your analysis of the situations has helped me with understanding my own experiences. Thank you for sharing!
This is exactly what I needed to read as a first year teacher. Thank you so much for your honesty.
This post makes me feel less alone. A few months ago I suffered- what was to me – a devastating blow. I realised that I had lost a lot of students’ respect and since this has been something I’ve always prided myself on, losing it made my soul die a little. It also gave me an identity crisis.
A bit of background. I’m not a school teacher but a casual class dance teacher with students generally in the 15-30 age range. My students used to adore me (this isn’t speculation it’s from honest 3rd party feedback) and because of this age range a lot of the older ones became my friends. I was the fun and easy going dance teacher that hung out with them. I really prided myself on being that awesome and respectable teacher that got along so well with her students. Almost all my social relationships with people since young have been disasters (I and others generally have trouble connecting) and so I clung onto this newfound feeling of being adored like a life jacket. It was like a miracle to me. I didn’t want the responsibility and the ‘celebrity’ status of a dance teacher though. I wanted them to see me as a friend. I wanted to be myself with them in class and outside. I thought to myself, “It’s just dance not a serious high school environment or something”.
BIG, BIG, BIG MISTAKE. I first realised something had changed during a performance last year. Usually if I’m on stage and I’m in the middle spot, I get heaps of cheers from my students in the audience. This time however, there were so little it was barely audible. My heart broke and I even went so far as to replay all the videos to try and hear if there were any cheers for me.
I tried to put it out of my mind but it certainly got me evaluating myself as a teacher and my conduct over the past few years. I realised that the biggest mistake I made was to become friends with my students. In being a friend, I had showed them all of me, which is what you generally do with friends. I showed them my insecurities, my demons, my negativity, my bad moods, my bitchy side etc. My conversations would be tailored to how i would speak to a normal friend and not to a student. I relied on the fact that they adored me and would never leave me. I relied on the premise that as a friend they would forgive me anything. I guess I really thought wrong.
For one thing, they weren’t even BFF’s. They were just normal friends, the kind that WON’T forgive you everything. Add to that the fact that some were still my students was a recipe for disaster. They had witnessed my darkest moments repeatedly and after awhile, who can truly stand that? And so word got around etc etc etc. I had fallen from my pedestal.
The one thing that gave me so much pride and joy was destroyed by my hands. I had stained my own reputation and now I have to work hard to rebuild it. However I guess the good thing is that i learnt a big lesson from this big mistake. No matter what kind of teacher you are, you are still a teacher and those under your tutelage will always see you that way. Therefore nothing is more off putting than seeing mud on someone you idolise. People generally dislike you more if the true persona they see differs from what they originally perceived. Yes in some cases it’s good to show a little vulnerability so that they know you’re only human and can connect with you, but it has to be heavily censored and done with the utmost integrity. Yes you can be friends, but distance still has to be kept.
So here i am still mourning my loss and picking up the pieces. But at least i know now what not to do.
Thank you so much for sharing this, Sally. It hurts to read it, but I am so glad you learned from the experience, and I hope others find solace and wisdom in your story as well.
Wow Jennifer that was a fast reply! Thank you so much for our comfort. It felt good to finally write it out as I’ve been suffering in silence for a few months now. I know in the grand scheme of things this is such a small matter but it broke me nonetheless.
Something I forgot to mention. I think what hurts the most is that I genuinely love and care for my students. They know that too but yeah I guess things are tainted now by my short temper and inability to censor myself sometimes. Only thing I can do now is move on and be better with new students and hopefully one day be able to apologise to the old ones.
By the way, I wouldn’t beat myself up too much about the Denise fiasco. From what you’ve described it sounds as if Denise is one of those people who have massive chips on their shoulders due to past failures that ultimately turn into a poisonous personality. The kind that love to go on crusades stirring pots. Everything is about them. They can be malicious at times and love the drama. It had nothing to do with her being ‘fragile’.
Wow, these are the moments few teachers will actually talk about, as they are so painful, so it’s great to see someone dedicating an article to it. By doing so, you make it safe to reflect upon these moments and learn from them. I know I have made numerous enemies in my teaching career, and yes, the majority have been caused or aided along by my fragile ego. I really enjoyed this and you seem like you are an amazing teacher! Thank you!!
Kelly, thank you so much for taking the time to write. I’m so glad this has given you an opportunity to reflect as well. Teaching is such a challenging job, there are thousands of ways to screw it up. I believe the best teachers are the ones who keep trying to learn, grow and improve. Thanks again.
Hi, I just read your article and I must say I liked the honesty. Sharing our mistakes for everyone to see on the internet is not easy.
What really bothered me as a woman and homeschooling mother of two girls, is the word “slutty” you used to describe a 12 year old child who probably had no idea what she was doing, and as a way to describe “Lower necklines, thicker mascara, heavier eye liner”. Are you sure you want to contribute to slut shaming women and young girls who like to dress up the way they feel they should, and not according to what men and other women think they must ? Really I found that pretty offensive. Couldn’t you just say she was more interested in make up and sexy clothes than your class ? Wearing low necklines and eyeliner might not be appropriate for a 12 year old, but it sure isn’t slutty.
Thanks for sharing your concern. Since writing this I have become a more frequent listener to Dan Savage’s podcast, so I have become familiar with the term “slut shaming,” which I didn’t know before, and I see your point. I think using that term to refer to a student is unprofessional and part of my overall problem in how I related to this student…it is probably a viewpoint that’s not uncommon among teachers, actually. I am now therefore left with the dilemma of whether to leave the language in and keep this conversation here, for the sake of enlightening other readers and teachers on the use of this word–or revising the original text and making this conversation confusing to anyone who comes across it. I think I will add a footnote to the original text so that people can come down here and read your comment. Thanks again.
We have eight weeks left of school, and I feel absolutely feel hated by my last class of the day (sixth grade ELA). I have been trying to earn their trust all year, build personal relationships- all of that. I think the bottom line is they don’t trust me and they don’t respect me. I would love to earn that by the end of the year. It feel so futile, like nothing has worked. Any help from anyone is appreciated!
Hi, Mrs. A–
I work for Cult of Pedagogy as a Customer Experience Manager, and I apologize for not getting back to you in a timely manner. I sincerely hope your 2016-2017 year was much better, and that your 17-18 year is even better than that!
I just found this blog and I love the chance to hear teachers speak honestly! When I was younger I taught the same grade level as my own kids. I was very popular I guess because I was so tuned in to what was happening at that age. I also had worked in two schools but both for a long time (half day each) so I was “grandfathered in” with a good reputation.
Then things changed in my district and I was transferred many times. I am way less cool than I was and the years have not been nice to me. I have been called the Wicked witch of the West and Mrs. Trunchbull. I am white and live in the city where my kids grew up and where I teach. The kids look at me as just another white lady that can’t relate to them.
Most of the time when they get to know me a little bit they get passed my looks and stereotypes and things are good. However, I have had classes that never warmed up to me, mocked my efforts to relate, just outright mean.
To make matters more difficult I teach FACS (Home and Careers). In my district they have cut out almost everything that made the class fun. We don’t really cook or sew or do crafts. We mainly focus on “soft skills” like personal identity, communication, citizenship, etc. The kids HATE it and therefore hate me.
So many teachers put up a front and act like they are so wonderful and loved by their students. I truly appreciate this blog for just being honest!!
I listened to this podcast episode before coming here, but I needed to comment and say thank you for your candid post! I can think of quite a few mistakes I’ve made; some were as a result of inexperience while others were a result of reacting too quickly or wanting to smooth a situation over instead of dealing with the problem directly. Anyway, it’s nice to know that reputable teachers such as yourself are willing to admit to making mistakes. We are all life-long learners. Thank you!
Thanks, Rachel. It means a lot to me to know that this helped you.
I wish I had seen this article before. I really appreciate your honesty and I feel sorry that we, as teachers, have to feel and become responsible for our students’ lives when they have parents too. For example, your Amy’s case was typical. Where were her parents in the equation? I understand it’s our job as teachers to spot any abnormality in conduct and awkward activity apparently going on in our students’ lives. However, with so much going on in our own lives too, teaching and outside teaching, that it becomes hard to acknowledge every aspect of their lives, especially what happens outside school. We are always under tremendous pressure to achieve, always being judged, measured against others and the educational standards, assessed and checked upon by admin, educational authorities, students, parents, school governors etc. We also have so much workload to take home that interferes with our private lives. How on earth is for a teacher who cares so much to pay attention and be 100% alert all of the times to all the social problems also involved in their work? Not to mention that not everything is brought to our knowledge. Just not fair! I think it’s great and brave of you to reflect and admit your mistakes. The teaching profession can also be very snobbish and few teachers admit when they are failing. They see their colleagues suffering, offer fake support but are not brave enough to care and admit they may have gone through the same thing.
When I said first I wish I had seen this before and read all the comments is because, after years teaching, an episode in the classroom led me to give up.
I am a specialist teacher, so I only come to each class once a week. On reflection, I know what I might have done differently but I felt compelled to leave after a 6th grade student spitefully accused me of assault. I was proven innocent in the end but I realise I had lost control of the class that day and I felt hated because guess what? I was being hated.
Therefore, instead of stopping all activities and asking what I could have done better to help their learning and behaviour, I simply tried to throw a game to deviate the course of things. It didn’t work, simply because they were not like my other classes which I had control of and I could use this type of strategy. This particular class was ‘ill’ and I didn’t realise they had issues with me. As it is a recent incident, I am still at a loss as to why this all happened and came to this crucial point. It hurts like a toothache!
So thank you for sharing this post. Although it’s 3 years old, it still resonates with many teachers and it will for years to come.
I hope I didn’t go off topic with my comment. Apologies if I have.
This post just popped up in my Pinterest feed, and it gave me hope that even the “best” make mistakes. I just came off a humbling experience in my foray into adjunct teaching at a small university. Your words were a comfort. Lesson learned: let it go for now, but do better next time!
Like many others, I stumbled upon this blog and saw myself in your post. Thank you!! There are those “good days”; the ones that everything goes right, the kids get the material, your jokes are funny and you get the “good job” from a colleague/admin. But lately those good days seem few and far between for me. I thought I was a well liked teacher, but in the last few years there seems to have been a change. It may be a mix of my ego and the student under pressure, who knows. I’m an advanced placement teacher, and the stakes are high on both sides, and ad I try my best to keep rigor & structure, I find that the students just complain more and frankly I’m tired of bending over backwards for them. This year a student said some disparitiing things about me on social media and it HURT. It was brought to my attention and I was completely dumbfounded, embarrassed & upset. The student was reprimanded & he apologized, but have not looked at my classes the same, and now I find that I’m on the defensive & lost faith/trust in the students. I’ve snapped at students & have tried to keep them at an “arms length”, but it’s difficult when I put so much into my lessons & work. I find myself wondering how I can get through this? I don’t like snapping at them, but the mix I have this year just seems more entitled then previous classes.
what I’m saying is that I am glad that I found your blog & while so many of us have been there, it’s always nice to have others who have gone through the ups & downs and still have a voice and grace to shed light on their experiences. THANK YOU FOR YOUR INSIGHT!!?
Thank you for this post. I am impressed with your willingness to publically share some of your vulnerable moments. It is very helpful to hear that we are all human. Learning and growing from our mistakes helps us to grow and improve.
I just listened to this podcast and my body was tense the entire time! I think the reason the comments are overwhelming positive is because we’ve all been there. We all want to be the most productive, effective, exemplary, respected, and beloved teacher in the world, but we all have human limitations. Nobody is held to higher standards than teachers. Sure, other professions have Ethics committees and all, but I don’t know that they’re held accountable like we are.
If I heard right, the Amy story happened your first year teaching. Gosh, my first year wasn’t very long ago. I cringe at the memories. You are incredibly brave to share your stories. I have only shared a couple of mine with two very special and trusted people.
I admit that I cried at the end of the last story. My body was done being tense. It needed to cry because I really regret some of the decisions I’ve made. What was it you said? We can stop caring or we can wrestle our ego down to the ground? I’m so sorry to butcher your words. We can’t stop caring. We’ll have to keep our egos under control.
Thank you for this podcast. It touched me so much. You’ve created quite a few podcasts since this one. I can’t imagine you forgetting a word. Thanks for sharing.
Thank you so much for your kind words, Ms. J. They mean a lot to me.
First, thank you for your brave and helpful post!
Second, I am so sorry that several people choose to take a very nasty, judgmental, know-it-all, and self-righteous tone concerning a possible instance of abuse with one of your students. Instead of using this as a chance to educate and demonstrate how to broach a difficult topic with love and understanding, they choose to go in a different direction. Please don’t let this deter you from sharing in the future or cause you feel an exaggerated sense of guilt.
Lastly, I have a very difficult situation that is a first in my 20 years of teaching. After 13 years at the same high school, I decided to transfer to a very small (less that 300 students), rural school in my district. I am the only chemistry teacher and replaced a teacher who had been there for years. My chemistry II class has both CP and Honors levels (about 8 of each) and they seemed to dislike me from day one. Since then, thanks to my patience and hard work, their feeling have progressed to utter disdain and something bordering on hatred. I tried some new things with them as my district just went one-to-one with Macbooks this year and they viewed every misstep and tech difficulty as a sign of my stupidity and incompetence, and my willingness to admit my mistakes as weakness. I expected them to show some personal responsibility and they expected me to spoon-feed them. Most of them ignore me in class and then blame me when they don’t do well on a test. Recently, my other classes (who I get along well with) started to tell me that I am being eviscerated on social media by the seniors (chem II). I admit that I have started to actively dislike most of those students and find myself dreading the class every day. And since everything I do is viewed in the worst possible light anyway, it’s very difficult to put the kind of effort I should into these last 3 weeks of school. How do I do my best in a class that goes out of its way EVERY SINGLE DAY to make it clear that they don’t like or respect me?
Sorry for to excessively long post, but I don’t know what to do.
Hello! This is Holly, a Customer Experience Manager. Jenn is in the middle of a project and asked me to reply, but I went to her for advice–as well as another CEM–and we are heartbroken to learn of your situation. But, we did brainstorm a few ways to conquer the rest of the year.
One of the first things Jenn would try is to not see the class as a whole. We feel there’s a good chance that there are a few students putting up with everyone else’s behavior but don’t have the bravery to speak out. Out of those who aren’t actively participating, maybe try to find one who you could talk to privately. Even if the conversation with this student doesn’t yield actual results, finding this core group could really help you get through these last few weeks.
Within the conversation, you may want to ask this student to clarify what’s going on through social media. You could even request screenshots of what they’ve seen. If this escalates anymore, it’s always a good idea have documentation.
Within the trouble group, try to pinpoint a leader. If that person seems like someone who you could talk with, have a simple conversation–What’s really going on? If you could change something about the class, what would it be? What insights could you share to make our last few weeks better? Even if there’s no leader per se, trying to find one student who you could talk to within this group could change the classroom climate drastically. I did this with my own college freshmen a few months ago, and as uncomfortable as it was, it changed the behaviors of the entire group.
We wish you the very best of luck. We want to encourage you to get your administration and/or counselors involved if they aren’t already, and as always, seek out a marigold!
I think your article was very brave and you have shown you are determined that you have learned from these 3 instances.
Hello ! I’m 14 and I am French. When I was 12, I said “I hate you” to my English teacher. But I regret it a lot. I NEVER hate her. I just love her, she is an AMAZING teacher. She hurt me a lot, but I don’t blame her any more. She hasn’t do it deliberately. She doesn’t really care about us and she’s too old to understand, but I love her. She asked me ” Why hate you me ” but I never answered. It’s too terrible. I hated English for 7 years, but know, I love it and I want to become an English teacher because of her. Perhaps your students didn’t hate you either.
Look at how powerful your contribution has been…..that it’s still touching people years after your original post date. It’s funny that you talk about students who HATE you. I’ve had a few of those over the years, (30 now), and when I’ve caught up with them years later, they have RAVED about their memories of being in my classroom. When I’ve asked the inevitable, and obvious question, they’ve told me that it wasn’t until they went into other teachers’ classrooms, that they realised how much they missed my awful singing, terrible jokes, ‘boring activities’ and that I was one of their favourite ever teachers. I remember one student, Laura. Years later when I was on Facebook, I made a comment on someone’s post, and Laura saw it. She contacted me and invited me to a ‘goodbye drinks’ at the local, before she moved interstate. She was absolutely insistent that I go, so I agreed, but for the life of me, I could NOT understand why she wanted me to go??? When I arrived, Laura was seated at the back of a large table with about 10 people seated around her. She CLIMBED the table to get to me, threw both arms around my neck and was jumping up and down, so excited that I’d come!!! I was gobsmacked. We spent some time chatting and she explained that as she moved through upper school classes, she grew to appreciate the effort I made with regard to the fun tasks, challenges and type of rapport/support she’d had in our Yr 7 classroom. There have been others like Laura, that’s for sure, but Jennifer, never underestimate the power of time on kids. Sometimes, we think that kids hate us, but over time, sensitivities shift and they gain a perspective that can challenge their recollections.
Can I just say I hope you didn’t feel intimidated by Denise. Seems to me she was trying to pressure you to change her grade. You did your best teaching and if all she could get was a C that’s her own short coming. I could see if most the class was failing but they were they were actually doing well, which means you were doing something right!
This is why so many teachers leave the profession – it’s so damn draining. This is without even touching on the other hundreds of jobs we have to do.
Thank you for this brave and honest post. No matter how good we may be at our craft, there is always more to learn. This just goes to show how important it is for teachers to be well-versed on topics well beyond the curriculum. I recently attended a four-day, Child Protection workshop by the Council of International Schools. It really opened my eyes to how much I still have to learn in this important field.
Thank you so much for this post. We all make mistakes, but it takes guts to publicly share them. Besides, who knows? When we make mistakes, we have an opportunity to own them and apologize. For these children, the positive of hearing an adult say they’re sorry might possibly outweigh the negative done by the original mistake. We can only hope. Blessings.
Jennifer, I’ve been a stan of yours for a little over 2 years. I’m really torn over this. Yes, it sucks when you intend for your teaching to be perceived one way by students and it doesn’t work out that way at all. Teachers are humans just like our students and sometimes we say and do things that we could’ve thought about a bit more.
However, do these students who decide we have offended them to the point of no return ever consider that just maybe, we did something that we perceived to be in their favor and that we are actually coming from a place of caring about them in the first place?
I teach college lit part time off and on again too, and I would have definitely talked with my dean about your Denise even though you said you couldn’t find anywhere in uni policy where she was doing something wrong. You may have deemed your response to her uncalled for, but that was certainly after you had gone to great lengths to right any wrong on your part and for that you deserved support from your department. Students of all ages and levels need to know that teachers don’t have to put up with being disrespected, bullied or intimidated anymore than they do.
I’m dealing with these things now with one student. I will continue to do my best for all my kiddos but I have no expectation that she will “come around” or appreciate the class. Nope, that’s on her. What I can look forward to is continuing to build on the other positive interactions and relationships in that very class that are there.
After reading this post and all of the comments, and reflecting on my difficult class, I got an idea: Conduct a survey of all of my classes and their parents to get some insight. There is so much more I need to do, but that might help too. Thank you for this post, and I will be checking out your other ones.
I am being bullied by students passive-aggressively and so is a colleague. They do it on social media or by anonymous hate letters to the principal who must investigate any report that comes across their desk. I am now constantly second-guessing myself and suffering from depression. Teacher suicide is a real problem and yet school districts don’t stop students from making false or misleading statements about their teachers and teachers have no recourse. We are supposed to just take whatever students dish out to us or say about us to their hundreds of followers. Any move we make, if it is about a student, may come back to bite us. We had a suicide prevention assembly at our school with a week-long follow-up where counselors did mood checks for students and students could self-refer to talk to one of them. No one did any mood checks for teachers. No one talks about help for teachers suffering from depression, and administrators always believe students even if the student is just trying to stir up trouble for a teacher who gave them a low grade. Teachers are victims of horrid student immature behaviors every day, from littering or vandalizing classrooms and property to defamation and verbal abuse. If students say their teacher sucks and that’s why they got a bad grade, their parent, the administrator, and anyone may believe them when in reality the student may not have read the book or paid attention in class. Teacher-bashing and bullying is yet another reason why many qualified people will never become teachers. It is the reason I use more sick time than I have every year. We are educators so that we can teach people to do what is right and know how to behave and interact when they become independent adults, but sadly, we are taken advantage of and treated with unkindness and abuse because we are the adults in the relationship and students are kids so they can get away with it and they know it. My husband wishes he could retaliate for me when I show him some of the things students write to me or about me to the principal because he knows I’m not allowed to defend myself or launch a counter-attack. Students don’t think about how their words affect their teachers and their families. The way students use social media against us could not have been anticipated, but somehow we must be able to defend ourselves before mental illness becomes an epidemic in our profession. Students like Denise turn against teachers quickly but teachers musn’t ever turn against a student. This goes against our natural instinct and gut feelings leaving us conflicted and oftentimes angry. We are isolated in our classrooms. So thank you, Jennifer, and all the teachers that posted comments for me to read, for breaking out of your isolation and making a difference in the life of one of your colleagues out here in California. I appreciate you.
Janet, it’s heartbreaking to hear about your situation. I know you’re not the only one, and I’m thankful that this piece has reached you and has at least provided some comfort. I hope others will find your comment here and offer some advice if they have been in a similar situation. My thoughts are with you.
Thank you for posting this piece. Like you, I remember the names and situations of every single one who I feel I failed. You nailed it when you said it was ego. Thank you!
I really appreciate this honest write up, it means a lot to me. I came back from school with tears because I try to give my all to my pupils. I take grade 5 pupils and I try to make them happy. I try to be as friendly as possible yet I keep having issues with a particular boy who had gone ahead to influence two others against me. I tried discussing with him to resolve things but to no avail. what pains me is that as soon as it is time for my lesson, they all shut down and keep quiet. no matter how much I try, they refuse to respond. I dont want to report to the school head for the fear that they’ll think I am weak. I have had similar cases in my previous classes.,one or two children hating me passionately. I feel like giving up and finding myself another profession….i can just ignore them and attend to others but, am not comfortable at all. i really need help on this
Hello Husna, I’m really sorry to hear this – when teaching is no longer fun and more time is spent dealing with management than learning, it’s easy to start questioning ourselves. But it sounds like you want to be in the classroom, and since you mentioned this isn’t the first time you’ve had trouble connecting with some students, I’d start by trying to build strong teacher-student relationships (click on link and see what’s relevant). I’m not sure how you have tried to make your students happy, but in my experience, students are happier in class when they feel secure. Students feel secure when there’s good classroom management and when they know their teacher understands them and their needs. Relationships and management are two of the biggest challenges teachers tend to face – without them, learning is at risk. Also, it’s always helpful to find a colleague or friend who you can discuss these issues with and get some support. The good news is that by examining the systems that are in place and making some tweaks, you can get some great results. Hope this helps!
This article gives me hope. I once was a student teacher without a clue how to build relationships and security, what best practices in pedagogy were, or how to deal with my own mistakes/shortcomings. While lesson planning and pedagogy are great, it’s not the meat of what the students will remember or carry with them throughout life. This lesson will preach! Or, shall I say, teach.
My cooperating teacher told me how awful I was at teaching and that I’d never make it. She even laughed and smirked in that conversation, confirming the clear message that she believed I was a ridiculous joke of a failure. Several things she taught me still stick with me today. These learnings are (1) you are deep down an imposter on your good days and your mistakes prove you are what I said you’d be (2) it’s good to yell at students for classroom management purposes or take them into the hall to berate them as a means of control. I’m sure she has no idea of how negative her impact was on me was to this day. I’m sure she was trying to motivate me to be awesome, like her, as if by willful magic I simply chose not to use while under her “care.” She never once gave me a single piece of praise. She came close once, but attached the clause to the end of that compliment to remind me that I’m otherwise terrible (with zero direction for any improvement ever). I’m sure someone will read this and think: well, maybe you were the worst student teacher of all time. Well, maybe. If so, I worked very hard for that rank. But I think the message here is huge.
One of the best gifts we can give our students is the attitude that mistakes WILL happen and tomorrow’s success is not pre-determined by past failure. We can create for them a safe culture that it’s ok to be honest, it’s ok to mess up, it’s appropriate to forgive and help push each other to future success. Students and teachers are partners in learning.
Your post is brilliant. You acknowledge mistakes and don’t try to put on a front that you are perfect or incredible. Anyone who does, in my opinion, is self-seeking, and not really about the students as opposed to the applause. We should want to help them succeed, and not pull the ladder out from under them. Sometimes we might accidentally bump into their ladder by a misspoken word when we are focused on something else. Good news: it teaches them what it is to be human, imperfect. As teachers, we teach empathy. We teach how to respond to conflict and disappointment. We teach perseverance and the power of kind words and encouragement. We inspire students to want to do more, go further, and overcome any obstacles. Bravo, Jennifer!
Thank you so much for sharing! I know that student teaching can be a rough experience, but wow, even more so with a cooperative teacher like that. I think your experience really highlights an important lesson for all of us; we have a choice when it comes to what we believe about ourselves. The mistakes we made yesterday don’t have to determine our todays and tomorrows. And our actions not only impact the perception we have of ourselves, but also the lives of those around us. As you point out, I think that’s a valuable goal for our students, our colleagues, and our relationships beyond the classroom. Thanks again!
Hi Jen –
I hope you see this comment even though I know it’s been so long since you’ve posted this article.
I’m a first year teacher and I wanted to say thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for sharing your mistakes. As a first year teacher, I know I’ve made mistakes. It can be very hard to see myself in a positive light. It can be hard to see it’s possible that I can be a good teacher some day. It’s so discouraging.
But then I read this and see that even an awesome teacher like you can make mistakes and still be an awesome teacher.
I know I have a long way to go, and I know I will continue to make mistakes even as I grow. But this is highly encouraging to know that it’s possible to not be defined by our mistakes and that we can grow from them.
So thank you for sharing that you’ve made mistakes too. It helps a lot.
The brave transparency it must have taken to crank this out is so admirable. I can’t express how much I appreciated this piece. Your final words about student ego and teacher ego are so wise!
Do you have an advice on the students who hate you for no particular reason? Or the ones that hate you even though you did nothing to them? I try not to take it personally but when students either disrupt class or sometimes get violent I am worried about the well being of my other students and myself. Especially when nothing is being done on the parents end of it. I find I end up ignoring students like this and that’s not what any teacher wants to do.
Hey Rachel, it’s really difficult when you have a student who seems to hate you for no particular reason. In these situations, I think it’s important to focus on what you can control as the teacher. Some things that would fall into this realm are the relationships you actively try to build with students and the strategies you use to manage your class. Jenn’s Pinterest board on Building Relationships with Students would be a good place to start. You could also check out her posts on restorative justice and classroom management.
Thanks for sharing this!
Thank you for this post. I also have a student who “hates” me and has since day one. He is academically way below his peers and has a rough home life. Knowing this, I’ve tried building a bond with him, but I also have been clear about my expectations. Every day this student calls me an ugly dog, says I stink, and writes “You ugly” on papers he leaves on my desk. It’s not as if he lost respect for me; he never had any. I don’t have a problem with my other students – they all love me – but I dread going to work because of this child. And it’s only December! I would appreciate advice from anyone who has been in this situation or can offer input from a different perspective.
I just wanted to reach out to thank you for your honesty. It’s my 4th year of teaching and this year more than any other I’ve been drowning in the sense of my own failures. With students, with timely feedback, with my curriculum planning, everything. There was one incident with a student this year where I hurt her and even after apologizing to her and her mother I still feel tremendous shame about it. The potential for failing so many people scares me every day. I was so grateful to feel less alone as I read your very brave post.
Thanks for sharing! Be encouraged and surround yourself with people to support you. It’s so important to do this work as part of a community. When we’re isolated from one another our failures feel bigger.
I have one student who just takes takes takes. No Hello, No Thank You no anything. I am at a primarily online school and so we are writing back and forth. It gets to be too much. I can relate to the ego at play in this piece and I can also relate to knowing I am being unprofessional by being defensive. I just can’t win with this student. I want to say – you are a senior in a class of 9th graders – be nice like the others! Instead, her misery is made known to each and every one. I have to work on not be affected by this type of person Unfortunately, she acts exactly like my mother used to so she has an in. Any teacher have a student that reminds them of a bad relationship they had previously had with a family member? I swear she brings out the worst in me – insecurities, defensiveness, questioning. For that reason, I do not like being around her.
Thank you for this article. I feel like I am drowning and missing those essential relationships with distance learning. Just like our kids, we continually learn from our mistakes. Don’t our brains grow the more wrinkles this way?
Jenn, this is my first year as a middle school teacher (I moved down from the high school) and your stories taught me a lot and were very insightful. Any chance you know of a book or resource where others share stories like this? Especially if they are middle school specific! Thank you!
Hi Danielle! Have you read Jenn’s post 8 Things I Know for Sure About (Most) Middle School Kids yet? It’s a good one! And while we don’t know specifically of any books, you might want to check out Middleweb and AMLE for more on teaching middle school.
I found this post because, like the author, I too am having to look at my ego. This year we all thought we were only going to have to teach one grade level. Yay! Well, six weeks into the year, our school had too many teachers and not enough students to justify the ratio. Boom. Our brand new, super sweet 6th grade teacher was first to go. I ended up with two of her 6th grade classes. My big class-30 kids-came to me with resentment and pure dislike of me even though I had never met them (I teach 7th grade). I was kind, but firm. I explained the rules and let them know I understood this abrupt change was hard. Then, the questions started flying. Several strong personalities did not like the answers I gave (nothing I haven’t said or explained in the past eight years of teaching middle school). From that day til now; it’s a “nightmare”. And, yes, I have the literal nightmares! I realize what my role is in the nightmare. But, I don’t want admit my faults because that might mean I need to say I’m sorry to my kids more than one time. You know, my thinking is “they should be nicer to me and apologize to me and the rest of the class for interrupting their learning”. Then, I must remember that these kids haven’t been in school, physically, since the end of 4th grade! I guess I will try to figure it out. I want to thank the community of educators out there that share their experiences, openly and honestly. I need to know I am not the only teacher that goes through these situations.
Google search: “what to do when a student hates you.”
1st Listing: Cult of Pedagogy
Thank you so much for this post, Jennifer! I teach small gifted classes and the students come to me for 3 years. Having one of them hate me is potentially a two or three year nightmare. My situation began when I fussed at (he says screamed) a student for not standing for the pledge because he was searching through his backpack. He wasn’t make a political statement at all, so when I pointed out that I expect him to stop what he’s doing to stand for the pledge, I thought nothing of it. The next day, over half the class sat for the pledge. I asked them if they had talked to their parents about their position on standing/sitting for the pledge. I told them I’d be asking their parents for their thoughts on the issue if this is what they decided to continue to do. The day after that, only three remained seated. I talked to their parents. Other behavior concerns started taking place. From there, it has snowballed into losing two of my students because they hate me, and another student taking steps to show her hatred by writing some nasty comments about me online. I’m in the midst of it. Reading your post and the other teachers’ has definitely helped. Thank you.
Jenn will be glad to know that this was helpful for you, Susan. You aren’t alone – sometimes teacher-student relationships hit a snag and it just feels horrible, particularly when we aren’t aware that our egos may be getting in the way. The best we can then do is reflect on our relationships with students so that we can continue to learn and grow as teachers.
It’s been years since you posted this, but I am incredibly grateful for your post. I am in my first few weeks of teaching high school, and I feel overwhelmed, especially when I don’t connect with every student on top of learning new curricula, meeting colleagues, navigating new learning software, etc. etc…
Your post gave me perspective; I realize that even a teacher I admire greatly–you!–is human. Your vulnerability helps me face another day.
I’ve read so much of your inspiring website, so thank you for that too.
Passing your message along to Jenn- I’m sure she’ll be touched by your comment!