She put her head down, let out a sigh, and uttered, “This class sucks.”
I looked at her and knew she meant it. I was not upset at the student. She had every right to her thoughts and emotions. She was not callous or mean. She was not disrespectful. She was honest.
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But how could this class suck for her? I used all the best “strategies.” I personalized instruction for her. The last few assignments/projects centered around advice she gave me. We had a pretty good relationship. She was one of a handful of students that came in at lunch just to hang. I checked all the boxes on the great practice checklist.
Yet she was not wrong. This class wasn’t working for her.
I racked my brain. I thought about it deep into the night. I wrote down ideas, and then I wrote down more ideas. As someone who writes, tweets, studies, and practices education with this much passion surely every student is always happy, engaged, and challenged in my classroom. But then again I have 130 students. All unique individuals. All from different contexts. All with their own set of likes and dislikes. No matter how hard we try, we will have these moments. Think about it once more, 130 kids.
I don’t write this to say I give up on this student. In fact, the opposite is true. She drives me to be better, to work harder, to think differently, to be more humble, to learn from her. I say this to share that teaching is an extremely tough and demanding job. It is complex and trying. As seen above, it is deeply emotional work; it is nuanced intellectual work. Those outside education need to understand this. Those within education need to understand this. None of us are perfect. We can’t beat ourselves up over one comment, or two comments, or three. You get the picture. It is okay to be bummed out and disappointed. It is fine to feel let down. Allow yourself this. Be kind to yourself.
And then tomorrow, try again. Dust yourself off and continue to work for education justice and equity. Keep doing the work. Do your best for that student, for the next student, and then the student after that. If your class sucks, do your best to be great for that student, every student. They deserve that. Rest assured, we will have these moments. ALL OF US DO.