Like me, I am sure you hopped on the teacher train thinking you were going to be the best, most amazing teacher who will reach and inspire all of your students. It has taken me nine years to understand that I am not actually failing at this, but instead I have come to the realisation that it is actually not possible to be ‘that’ teacher for all your students. When you think back, how many of your teachers do you really remember?; how many of your past students do you really remember? I know for me, the years all blur and now, working in a middle school, I teach about 60 different students. This has greatly impacted my ability to build those deep relationships. It is important to remember that while you are dealing with that challenging behaviour, feeling like the walls are caving in around you, there are actually students in your classroom who will remember you forever with so much love and appreciation, because you will be the person they need. When I began writing this book, I wrote about becoming the teacher I needed as a child. So while I may struggle with the behaviour that pushes back at me, when I teach a child like me, or a child who needs someone to see them, I will be there. But only when I allow myself to see them through all the noise and the fog. It is all too easy to get lost in the noise and allow yourself to give all your power away. And when I say power, I am not talking about being an authoritative figure who children stand to attention for, I am talking about your magic. We all have it, we wouldn’t be teachers without it. If we are not too careful, we give our power away or let people stifle it to the point we forget what we are doing here. We forgot about the magic we had in the first place.
All too recently, all my energy was going into the negative things happening in my classroom. That kid who just kept pushing back. The more I focused on it, the more it progressed. To the point where I actually had to walk away from a child only to break down in the work room – I was broken. I was going to lose my absolute shit. I believe, the more we think about and feel an emotion, the more the universe gives us of that emotion – think about it – you wake up late, instant bad mood. You stub your toe on your way out the door. You get every red light on the way. You leave your charger at home. The photocopier jams… all before 8.30am setting you up for a pretty shitty day a head. I was putting all my energy into negative thoughts and feelings, so this is what I was getting back. I was losing my magic. Around the same time, a lovely student of mine was struggling with the same boy I was, well not just him, but his group of friends. The relentless bullying was getting her down. I was reminded, while working with this quirky, bright and happy-go-lucky girl, that I was still needed and wanted. She needed me to have her back. She needed me to have my magic. She needed the teacher I have worked so hard to be. While I was so busy feeling so unwanted, disrespected and invisible, there was someone sitting right in front of me who needed me to be there for her. To have her back. To help her find her magic and allow it to shine. And, I helped her. I helped her the way she needed to be helped, well the second time anyway…
This was my message to her:
This is my beautiful student, Shannon. A few weeks ago, she came to me because some boys in our class were making her life difficult; they were taking something she loves dearly and telling anyone who would listen how gay it is. They even said it to her face, demoralizing her and making herself second guess whether it was ok or not to express her true self. I remember being a 13 year old, I remember it so clearly, with some much raw feeling and emotion. It was a tough time, my whole primary schooling was a tough time; I was bullied too, but back then, it wasn’t called bullying, it was called ‘boys being boys.’ It really did shape me for the rest of my schooling, and my young adult life, I became a people pleaser, I became quiet and I learned to hide the sides of myself I didn’t want other people to see.
After this bright, beautiful, kind and spirited young woman bared her soul to me, I couldn’t sit idly by, I don’t want Shannon to have to hide who she wants to be from the world, the world needs her light to shine bright. She was hurt; these boys had wounded her, not physically but left the scars that take much longer to heal. And I was hurt for her. Her light was dimming; they were putting out her fire. I spoke to the boys in question to call them out on their behaviour, and they said sorry. Words. Only words. Words are meaningless without action for we can say what we think others want to hear. We can say the right things, but without action, they are meaningless.
I failed Shannon on this day. I didn’t make things better for her, I made them worse. The hate did not stop. It only changed its course. Shannon could not see the lips saying the words because they were no longer being spat at her face, but she could hear the words slapping her ears. She could feel the words pierce her skin. Shannon didn’t want me to do anything this time. Shannon wanted to know what she could do to get through, she wanted some strategies so she could deal with their actions. My heart broke for Shannon. Instead of telling Shannon to suck it up, to close her ears or to just get over it, I told her that the actions of others towards us tells us more about them than it does about us. I told her that she is not to change anything about herself. I told her to tell me about all the things she is amazing at because she truly is a remarkable young lady. And we decided to take our own course of action. Today, we both wore headbands as a silent protest. A silent protest to those who chose to make comments when she wore her headband to school. A silent protest to all the bullies out there who think its ok to bring others down with their words.
You do not change yourself to conform Shannon. You do not let people’s words, opinions, actions, or thoughts about you dictate who you are and who you want to be. Shannon, you have a light shining in you so bright, you cannot let the world miss out. There will be people in our lives who don’t agree with us, who challenge us, who want to bring us down. There will be people who don’t understand us, who don’t see what the rest of the world sees, who don’t like us, and that is ok – that is the world in which we live; we are all born different for different reasons, with a different purpose, our lives will all be different. We are all here to bring the world our own uniqueness. Let your light shine.
Beautiful girl, you do not let people’s words, opinions, actions, or thoughts about you dictate who you are and who you want to be. When people want to hurt us, they are the ones who are truly hurting. They see something in you that they wish they saw in themselves. I see something in you so magical. Let your light shine bright, Shannon. The world needs your light.
After our silent protest, I sent this message to Shannon. She replied telling me just how bad she has felt this year. About how horrible these boys have made her feel. She thanked me for showing her that it is ok to be herself. She told me she will wear her headband everyday from now on and I cried as I read her words. I forgot that I had so much to give. I forgot that there were other people who did need me. I forgot that teaching is more than having control, of having the perfect lesson plan or achievement grades. I needed Shannon to remind me of that.
My magic is in my words. My magic is my compassion. My magic is the love I can give. I need to remember myself, the advice I gave Shannon. I need to remember to let my light shine and not let others steal my magic. I am needed. I am wanted. I am loved.
And so are you.
Teach from your heart. Don’t let yourself get sucked up into the negative bullshit and the challenges we face daily or they will own you. Allow yourself to see through the fog; find the faces smiling back at you. Understand, that even though there are days you don’t feel this way, you are loved and appreciated more than you know.
I appreciate you. Thank you for doing what you do.