aha moment, Be the change, students

Show Them You Are Human – George’s Aha Moment

George is a Principal at a K-12 program in Stony Plain, Alberta. On his blog he says, “I learned quickly that as an administrator, you are only as good as the people that are around you.” George perpetually reaches out to new educators, as well as new followers on Twitters and has proven to be a real leader in bringing principals and others together.  He blogs on several sites including his own blog The Principal of Change and the Connected Principals blog.  Follow George on Twitter at @gcouros, you will not regret adding this fantastic initiator to your PLN.

It is easily one of the most vivid moments that I have had as an educator. It is also a moment that I reflect on continuously when looking at my own practice, and helping to guide the practice of others.  It was my first “truck” you.

Okay,  so “truck” was not the term that was said at me, and I am sure that you can figure out what it was.  I had been teaching for 6 years and not one student had ever sworn at me.  I remember other educators telling me when a student swore at them, and it was like a fairy tale to me.  No student would ever do that.  How dare a child swear at a teacher!  I remember having some teachers that I did not like at all, but I would have never sworn at them.  Then it happened to me.

During lunch one day, I worked at my desk that was just tucked outside of the office.  During this time, I would work on course work as I was doing my Master’s degree.  Let’s just say that it was a very BUSY time for me and my life.  Although the door was locked, there was a window where you could see anyone that was in my room.  Sitting in the dark and trying to focus on my work, I wanted to be as unnoticeable as possible.  Feeling as if I should not be uninterrupted in my office, I remember a student knocking on the window as he printed something off in my office.  Being so stressed at this time and wanting to finish my work, I remember nodding my head and shaking “no” to the student.  He knocked again.  Again, I said “no”.  Then it happened.  Through the glass window, Patrick (not his real name), a grade 9 student, mouthed those words to me; “TRUCK YOU!”.

I looked up, and if he did not have my attention before, he had it now. I jumped from my chair, and being a rather large man, Patrick RAN AS FAST AS HE COULD.  Looking back, I was so stressed at this moment, that I am glad Patrick ran.  I was SO mad, hurt and embarrassed.  I was also angry. Very, very angry.

First of all, before I go on with this story, my behaviour towards the student was wrong.  Patrick was treated basically like a second class citizen.  If my principal would have come to the door, I would have popped up and opened it for her.  I would have also opened it for any staff member.  At that time in my life though, I would have not done the same for a student.  This is wrong.  You do not have to spend every moment at school around people.  We all need breaks.  You should always be caring and respectful though.  Always.  Although no one ever deserves to be sworn at, I treated that student wrong.  This was part of my “A-Ha” moment.

As I was furiously looking for Patrick around the school, I remember thinking of all the things that I would do to ensure Patrick’s day would be ruined.  I continued to envision how I would take Patrick to the office, demand his suspension (five day minimum of course) if not his expulsion!  I was so upset.  At this time though, Patrick was gone.  He had fled the school grounds.  He knew I was mad and he was scared.

Eventually I cooled down and realized how hurt I was by the whole incident.  How could a kid have done this to me? No one should be treated this way.  My anger soon turned to hurt.  I did not cry, but it was close.

Patrick came back to school.  Although I did not consciously decide to take a different approach, I did not take Patrick to the office.  I remember seeing Patrick and asking him calmly to speak to him in a side room.  He knew he had done something wrong and saw that I was calm.  When I did talk to him in the office, I started talking as a real person.  I told him that my parents were actually coming to visit the school in the next few days and now I was so embarrassed that a student in our school would say something like this to me.  How could I bring my parents into this environment?  I did not know if I could trust him to show respect in front of my own family.  I told him I was hurt.  I told him I was shocked.  I told him that I would not be able to sleep at night because this happened.  

Patrick saw I was hurt, and being a 14 year old boy, he fully understood the impact it had done to me.  He apologized and started balling at that moment.  I never did march him down to the office because I did not have to.  I felt he had learned from what he had done and that he was going to move on and be better.  I was right.

For the rest of the year, Patrick was THE NICEST kid to me at the entire school.  He went out of his way to say kind things to me and always made sure that he was nothing but respectful.  Not only was he great to me, but I really loved to learn that kid and we would even joke about the “truck you” moment.

My “aha” moment came not immediately after, but through my constant interactions with Patrick.  I thought “what if” I would have taken him to the office.  He probably would have been suspended, but he would have been the “bad” kid according to me, and I would have been the “jerk” teacher to him.  He would have never realized that I was actually a real person, but just “some teacher” who was rude and disrespectful to him (which I was).  I talk about this with staff when discussing bring students down to the office.  How many times have we taken kids to someone else to “deal” with and then lost out on the opportunity to connect and work with them through something.  Separating yourself from kids because they have done something wrong shows them that they do not need you at all.  There are definitely cases where students need to go to the office, but as the people “on the spot”, we should try to learn with these students together.  I do my best to get to know kids, but I will never know them as well as their homeroom teacher.

I also learned that it is much easier to teach a student about right and wrong when you do it from a humanistic perspective.  Being the “authority” often turns people away from you.  Showing that you are a person with feelings though, makes it a lot harder for a person to continue to be disrespectful.

From this moment, I know that I focus on treating everyone how I would want to be treated, especially students.  They need to feel loved and cared for and know they are the reason we are there.  I also learned that working with a student through their mistakes is not a pain, but an opportunity to teach something way more meaningful than what is in our curriculum.  I guarantee Patrick will remember that incident just as vividly as I have, and do his best to respect those around him.  Yes, some of these incidents are tough to deal with, but if you are expecting your job just to be easy moments, you are in the wrong profession.  Do not treat these moments as hassles, but into opportunities to connect and learn with your students.  Most importantly, be yourself.  Showing yourself as a human will not only shed a different understanding on you by your students, it will also make your job more rewarding.  Enjoy the kids you work with and appreciate that every moment you are in school, you are learning.  

I learned more about good education practice from those two words that day, than I had in several years of university.  Who would have thought those two words would have had such an impact.  My two words back? Thank you.

3 thoughts on “Show Them You Are Human – George’s Aha Moment”

  1. Wow George! What a wonderful story.It has really touched me… "Do not treat these moments as hassles, but into opportunities to connect and learn with your students" What could have been really bad for Patrick turned out to be a wonderful learning experience for both. You were able to turn this difficult situation into a meaningful learning experience. That's what made the difference. That's what teaching is all about.What makes a teacher great is not just following a curriculum, but also finding ways to connect with students, help them grow and make their learning meaningful.Thanks for sharing this inspiring story.

  2. George, what a great "aha moment." I love how you didn't just look at what Patrick said, but on why he might have said it and on what you could have done differently too. You let this moment make you a better teacher, and that is a wonderful thing! I'm so glad that you shared this post here!Aviva

  3. Thanks Aviva and Greta…that was definitely a weird time for me as I just came to this new school. I was about to quit teaching the year before but thought the change of scenery would maybe make a difference. I was SO right. Connecting is huge and makes our job all the better.Thanks for your comments 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s