Thick Skin

Yesterday someone asked me, “Other than the time and the grading and all the usual teacher stuff, what is the toughest part about teaching?”  I didn’t have to think about it: it’s the gravity.  Just that weight of knowing that my actions have direct repercussions, or that pressure of realizing that this classroom of kids depends on you – that’s the toughest part about teaching.  Especially when it comes in line with… just the attitude oozing from the pores of these 8th graders.  At least in 7th grade, the kids were anxious and onboard.  Now in 8th grade, they have just enough of the street smarts to be independent, but not enough to realize that they aren’t invincible.

I’ve had a tumultuous few weeks, all very emotional, and right now, I’m just sitting back to think, what are my goals as a teacher?  What do I want to impart to my kids?  Where have I failed?

It’s only the start of November, but I feel that already my tongue has lashed out unnecessarily.  I feel that there are times that I sacrificed my students for the sake of filling a quota or an expectation.  I know that at times, I’ve pushed them mainly for my own ego, rather than directly for their good.  

Then I have to step back and ask myself, is it me or my school that make my kids miserable?  Sure, I can blame a lot of my actions on school restrictions and requirements, but I remember how last year, I was just, so much more cheerful and forgiving and understanding.  Perhaps, I was also naive.  But even with that, so WHAT?  Maybe it’s better to focus on teaching, loving, and nurturing, and let the kids think they have one up on the teacher.  I am so much sharper when it comes to catching students doing things they shouldn’t, and much less lenient with the warnings… but… why?  Why am I so intent on catching wrongs?  It’s a normal stage of life.

It’s middle school.  I remember when I was in middle school, I wasn’t a bad kid, but I definitely didn’t respect my teachers outside of class.  I’d love a teacher but still find ways to make fun of her or quickly grow angry and indignant if something didn’t go my way.  I think I see that in a lot of my kids… and I have to remind myself it’s normal.  

  • It’s normal that they exchange glances when I reprimand them. 
  • It’s normal that they roll their eyes at me.
  • It’s normal that they’ll directly deny something that I saw (and then roll their eyes or exchange glances when I point out exactly what I saw/heard).
  • It’s normal that they’ll tell me that they hate coming to school.
  • It’s normal that they’ll compare me to other teachers to my face.
  • It’s normal that they’ll try to sneak out of things.
  • It’s normal that they’ll blatantly ignore me when they get bored.
  • It’s normal that they’ll wheedle and flatter to get something they want.
  • It’s normal that they’ll get cold and miffed when I don’t do what they want.
  • It’s normal that I need to remind them everyday that I am human too, that I deserve normal respect, and that I have feelings.  

It’s normal because they’re middle schoolers.  They feel so adult and they ARE growing up, but they still aren’t fully developed.  And you know, I don’t mind the 8th grade boys so much, because they bounce back and they’re just honest.  But with the girls.. man.. constant eye-rolling, constant too-cool-for-school, constant backstabbing and gossiping.  I just .. really hate it.  And I sound so dowdy when I talk about womanhood, college, and career.  

Then I also have to remind myself that I am not here to impress them.  I am here to teach them and to try to be an adequate adult example.  One day, they’ll look back, I guess.  But for now, 8th grade is pretty thankless. There are rewarding days, and I do my best to plaster on a smile and try to talk with them and be warm towards them… but I’m not gonna lie.  It does suck showing up everyday to be treated like another “enemy adult.”  I mean, what did I do?!  

So I suppose it’s not just the gravity of the situation – where there is that sinkhole feeling when you see an amazing kid give up or give way – I suppose it’s also the fact that I get treated like a dishrag just because they can’t totally disguise how they feel about my decisions.

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