This was the week I retook control of all aspects of my life. Things would be different this week. Everything would turn around and become better this week. Instead, I wasn’t good enough this week and my students did not hesitate to let me know.
This week I started waking up a half hour earlier (3:45AM!) to start my morning workouts. This week I managed to start going to bed earlier. This week I refocused my eating habits to reflect my fitness goals (Elite Spartan Beast on 4/29) . This week was the start of a journey that required me to conduct 17 formal teacher observations in 8 days (12 days including post-observation conferences). This week the lessons for my 3 daily classes were absolutely on-point. Everything was going so well for me this week, until…
Then my students informed me that I am a grumpy teacher. One of my students coined the term “Grumpy T” (T for Thom) to describe me. This started a class-wide discussion in one period where the class agreed that I had been grumpy and different all week. This shocked me and I felt incredulous when I heard this. My body felt great from the workouts, I was getting more sleep than before, I was eating much healthier, and I was loving all the observations and genuine conversations I was having with teachers. How could I possibly be grumpy?
I proceeded to tell them that I felt better this week than I had in a long time and that I’m not different; that it was their behavior that was frustrating. They seemed extra talkative this week. There were numerous occasions during a class period that prevented me from finishing a sentence without experiencing an interruption. I pushed back and put the onus on them. After all, I had tried everything I could to improve the issues in the class. I did my job…or had I?
I am in my ninth year as an educator and have never been called “grumpy”, let alone have a nickname attributed to me with that word in it. This was a serious allegation and demanded my attention and reflection. We spent so much time as a class working to create a safe space that I thought there was no possible way for this. After much reflection and with the help of a great friend (much love Oskar), I realized that the problem was me.
For the first time this school year, I felt that I had control of my entire life. Professionally, I had a real schedule for observations and conferences and my class plans sought to maximize student engagement and enjoyment. Personally, I had started to duplicate some of the physical routines that allow me to compete in Elite Spartan Races. I had control of so much, but I was greedy. I wanted control of everything, including how my students interacted in my classroom.
I spoke with my students about the environment that we created and even suggested that maybe they were too comfortable with how our class operates. Then I realized that we created the environment. The entire foundation of our classes consists of shared control and shared dominion over our shared space. I have spent the entire school year embracing my lack of control. I have let my students drive instruction, discussion, and all aspects of the class. Here I was trying flip the script so I could have full control over what transpired when we were together. Who did I think I was?
As educators, we sometimes want to have as much control over as many things as we can. This doesn’t make you a control freak; this is natural and completely understandable. We spend so much time creating and planning amazing lessons and plans for our classes. We want them to unfold exactly the way that we visioned in our minds. If you have spent a few weeks in any classroom, you know that things never go the way you want. The best educators are the best educators because they understand this, embrace it, and adjust accordingly.
One of the major suggestions during all of my post-observation conferences with my teachers was to give students more control of the classroom. I explain to teachers that it will be messy, loud, and sometimes look like a disaster, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t working. When your students tell you that you are grumpy (or annoyed, different, angry, or any other emotion), the transfer of control is working and clear. You are creating leaders and free-thinkers. Do yourself and your students a favor and listen. They spend a lot of time with you and they probably know your tendencies and personality better than you do. Listen to them!
After realizing this, I addressed my students. I told them while I started working out in the morning, it prevented me from doing my morning meditations (they know this is a big part of my daily routine because I share my life with them). I explained how this affected me physically, mentally, and emotionally and apologized to them. I owned who I was this week and it flipped the narrative entirely. As a result, we enjoyed some of our best classes on Friday and everyone felt good while learning.
To my students, thank you. I am so thankful to know that we have created an environment where you feel you can be real and honest with me and each other. Your open and pointed feedback made me realize what I was doing wrong and what I need to do to be better for you. It is not easy to hear that you are doing something wrong. It took me a few days to see in myself what you were seeing in me. I need you to continue to hold me accountable when things are off.
Thank you for having the courage to drop the waterline and be real with your teacher. Thank you for fighting to preserve the environment of shared ownership that we have created. Thank you for looking me in the eyes and demanding more from me, that you need me to be better. I will be better and I know you will tell me the next time that you need more from me. I hope this never changes. I hope you continue to advocate for what you need, stand up for what is right, and be the change you wish to see in your world.