“Sam, that’s a great summary but we need the main idea. Remember our strategy? Let’s look at the poster.”
Sam began to argue with me at my small group table. While the rest of my group had this strategy down, he was resisting his own learning, every step of the way, even arguing with all of my feedback. At this point, I was FRUSTRATED.
I had already had a challenging day.
The night before I didn’t get enough sleep, because my son had an after-school event. I try to avoid staying up late but this event was important. And when I don’t get enough sleep, my brain rebels. I forget names, spell incorrectly, and make very simple mistakes.
So this morning was not the morning to argue with me.
I dismissed everyone from the table, stating “Sam, stay here”, fully intending to deliver some very stern words.
So I looked at him. I really looked at him, with his hair all sticking up, his too-big teeth, and sad and serious vacant eyes.
My stern words never came.
I looked him directly in the eyes and said, “Sam, I know you’re used to people being mean to you, telling you that you’re not smart. Or that there’s something wrong with you. So right now, I’m guessing you want to defend yourself.”
“That’s true,” he replied. “I hear it all the time.”
“Well, you’re smart. Did you know that?”
I could see a shift in him. I could see it in his posture, and in his eyes, after I told him he was smart.
I continued, “There’s a difference between what a teacher says and what someone else says. Teachers just want to grow your beautiful brain. That’s all. You’re perfect exactly the way you are….and you are smart. Can you try to accept that, how a teacher tries to help you learn, and how I only want to help you?”
He looked me directly in the eyes and said, “Yes, ma’am.”
Sam never says “ma’am.”
Since then, he works harder and smiles more. I know it will take more than that little talk to change his course. But what will work is me seeing him, not just a kid with a troubled background, or a lack of focus, with messy handwriting, and crazily disorganized desk. I need to focus on the child who reads beyond his expected level and who sees the details when no one else can.
He’s creative, bold, and brave. And he’s super dorky.
My day changed after that. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t think of a student’s name, or that I made a mistake in a lesson. Those became opportunities to teach a growth mindset. The day morphed from one of frustration to just going with the flow.
So what is the secret strategy to turning your worst day into your best?
I’ll let you decide. It’s whatever got you into teaching in the first place. Mine is my love for children. Yours may be something different. Let whatever it is guide you.
The one thing that makes you a teacher is YOUR secret sauce, YOUR strategy. What’s your secret strategy for turning around a horrible, no good, very bad day?