Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Difficult Ones

We have difficult days, sometimes even difficult weeks, and hopefully few difficult months or years (though I know teachers who've had just that). We have difficult class or course assignments, the ones in which group chemistry might be off, or for which the prep work is overwhelming and yields little satisfaction. We have difficult students. For so many reasons, at varying times, and all, at some level, understandable. We want to help these kids. We want to help them learn, we want to help them heal, we want to help them grow. It is for them that we often stay after school (or go there early), revise our approach, revise our plans, revise our expectations, and collaborate, question, and keep on keepin' on.

And then there are the parents. Our first, and most important, partners in education. Our allies. Or not. And when they are not, the struggle can become more than difficult to bear. To me, difficulty with a parent feels like a betrayal. It feels like an outright exclamation of the parent's (or parents') lack of faith in my intelligence, experience, and concern: I DON'T BELIEVE YOU! YOU DON'T KNOW ANYTHING! YOU ARE WRONG! This distrust is the most uncomfortable. We can take it from kids (they are still learning, we say), we can take it from society at large (it's always been an uphill battle, we say), but when it comes from parents, it cuts too close to the bone. It's personal, and so difficult to get our heads around. Even more difficult to release.

But release it we must, as logic dictates. Often, we can explain the behaviors as "apple-tree," or a reflection of a parent's own educational experiences, or as a knee-jerk response to a misrepresented issue. That's where we can start to release the difficulty. I employ other tactics, too, and this week I had to use them all. First, I gave myself 24 hours to get over it. This is a strategy I use for almost every hurt I experience; it allows me the time to grieve, the freedom to move forward, and most importantly, perspective. Then, I chose five parents to contact with the good news that their children were achieving, or were showing improvement, or were helpful and pleasant. I didn't choose stars; their parents hear how great their kids are. I chose the middlers. I chose parents of kids who do what they are expected to do, the way they are expected to do it, when they are expected to do it. Simple. And soon enough I begin to feel better about my work, my students, and their parents. This week it took one more step to come around all the way. I treated myself, on a very personal level. Whether a special dinner (probably including some comfort food), a spa treatment, a walk in the woods or on the beach, a shopping spree, an intense workout, or time alone (or with a supportive pal), the gift-to-self is a sure-fire way to separate the professional struggle from the personal pain. For me, that hour plus (and my verbal acknowledgment of its purpose to those around me) is both reinvigorating and reaffirming.

I work hard, I know a lot, I have faith in my students and think always of their success. I teach with compassion and respect, I believe in equity and parity, and always I am grateful to be supported by parents who do understand what I do, how I do it, and why. There will be those who will not buy in, those difficult ones. That's okay. Even if they don't have faith in me, I do.

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