Tuesday, March 15, 2011
No Crying in the Classroom
The quote has been repeated over time. Martha Stewart uttered the words, "There is no crying in business" once or twice when she hosted The Apprentice television show. And one time a friend of mine at work told me, "Crying? There's no crying in the classroom!" I just laughed at her. Maybe there is no crying in HER classroom, but there is certainly a tradition of crying in mine. And the one who cries, on an average of once or twice a year, is me.
It happens. You can judge me if you like. I wouldn't blame you if you did. It certainly makes me sound like a complete flake to admit that I have cried in front of my classes almost every year. But I know why it happens and I've long accepted the fact that I am a crier. When I get stressed, I cry. When I am sad, I cry. When I am angry, I cry. Although some would surely see my lack of composure as a lack of professionalism, when I cry in the classroom, it's because I have found it necessary to put on the breaks with a group of kids. I put aside the academics for just a day to take a risk in connecting with my students on a more personal level. I trust my instincts and follow my gut. Once a year I seem to reach a point where I cry. Sometimes I share something I have written with my teens and that makes me tear up, either because what I have written is sad, or because I am nervous over sharing with them. Other times I start sharing with them my concerns over how they are doing or how I am feeling about the dynamics within the group. Sometimes I shed just a tear before I manage to pull myself together. Other times however, I try speaking and I have to pause several times to be able to finish my sentences.
Today was one of those days. I did not plan to cry. But I felt something telling me to put the academics aside for a bit and to share a few things with my students--simply about how I'd been feeling "in a funk" lately--recent losses and work piling up, and of how I've been stressed. It was your average "This is what's been going on with me lately" conversation. Still, it's always a huge risk to show your vulnerable side in the classroom. But I believe that if I cannot be human when I teach, then perhaps I shouldn't be a teacher. I remember a former student once telling me that the day I cried in front of her was the day she woke up and realized that we teachers do care deeply for our students. She felt awful and apologized for not thinking of our humanity before the tears.
After sharing a little and crying today, I invited my students to share with me. I told them they certainly were not required to do so, but that I wanted to give them a chance to tell me how THEY were doing. I wanted to give them a chance to be heard. They all took out a piece of paper and for a good 15 minutes or so, they wrote silently.
Tonight I read a pile of notes written by those who decided to share with me. The notes were truly beautiful. Once again I am feeling very humbled. Yes, I took a big risk today but the rewards of showing my humanity in the classroom was worth the risk. My tears in the classroom, however controversial, give us all a chance...to be honest, to share, to care. Once again I was reminded of how I love these teens that I teach. They are such good people. Most people prove to be as such when you give them a chance.