A quotation I distinctly remember from middle school history was Lord Acton’s “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” I’ve been wondering lately if I’ve been power-tripping in my classroom.
Walking up to my school this morning I reflected on what seems a recent trend of mine to feel agitated and frustrated, and to pass these feelings onto the kids. It has manifested in different ways, some fairly benign and others, specifically sarcasm, I consider unacceptable. I resolved to be, in the strange words of my inner monologue, a well of endless patience. We hadn’t even made it to lunch when it seemed the well had run dry.
Searching for the cause of my attitude problem yields several culprits. It is April, so spring is of course a suspect as my students (and their teacher) begin to feel the restlessness brought on my warm, sunny days. The test is another obvious cause. We are all exhausted and stressed by the impending state reading and math exams. It makes the kids restive and in turn I get short-tempered when they’re inattentive during such a crucial time.
The third possibility is one that makes me most uncomfortable, but one which offers me the most control to effect a change in my classroom. On my way home today I began to think that maybe I’ve just become a control freak. Unsharpened pencils, not raising your hand, calling out “I’m done” are among the slight misdeeds that draw my full-blown wrath.
Maybe I would benefit from a trip back in time to my first year of teaching, I thought, reflecting on the way I’ve been jumping down students’ throats for every small infraction. That trip down memory lane brought me back to my early impressions of teachers I observed as a student-teacher and a first-year teacher. I will never talk to students that way, I said to myself naively.
Ultimately I can say that the chaos of my first-year classroom was a worse offense than the harsh, unforgiving tone of the master teachers I observed. And I know that it’s the small minutiae of a classroom, right down to sharpening pencils, that keeps it running smoothly and safely. But now that I have control, there has to be a way to keep it while living up to my original standards as an instructor.
I think the one gleam of hope in an otherwise gloomy stretch is the fact that I have never tried to be infallible in my classroom. I am willing to admit when I’m wrong, or apologize when I snap or unfairly accuse a student. And I do so often. On a day like today, I’ll even say, “I’m sorry, for some reason I’m in a grouchy mood,” and we’re able to laugh about it. I know the many rules, routines, and procedures we have are really there to create for freedom for the kids. And for the most part they succeed in this respect. It’s up to me now to trust the system I’ve created, even in the warm weather, high-stress test prep days, and for God’s sake, loosen up.