You might not believe this, but I’m not perfect. I make a mistake now and then. Occasionally, I really blow it. That’s why I really enjoyed the discussion in a Coaching Life Group last week.
We were talking about how to handle situations when we’ve messed up, especially if we’ve messed up publicly in front of kids. It wasn’t in an athletic context, but I happened to have one of those situations recently in a 6th grade math class. It was the last period of the day and four or five students apparently weren’t interested in learning about finding the area of parallelograms. I have a hard time with that because I love that stuff. I absolutely eat it up. My enthusiasm for those topics is probably what makes me a pretty good teacher most of the time. Unfortunately, it also makes it hard sometimes for me to empathize with students who don’t share my passion for parallelograms.
On this particular day I allowed my frustration to boil over, and launched into a rant demanding the students’ attention. It was an impassioned plea for them to allow me to teach them. I was animated. I made threats. Not my best moment as an educator. The funny things is, the students were absolutely perfect afterwards. I had scared them straight and I had no more issues with distractions or other conversations going on. For about 4 minutes. By that point, their fear had worn off and we were right back where we started. Some uninterested students and a teacher not sure what to do with it.
As I processed the whole things afterwards, I realized a couple things. First, we were going to have to address this tomorrow, and I was going to apologize for allowing frustration to get the better of me. As I dug a bit deeper and thought about where the frustration came from, I realized that I was probably most frustrated with myself, because apparently I had failed to create and execute a lesson that was sufficiently engaging for 12 year olds at the end of the school day. I needed to do better, and I knew it.
The next day I called for a “Family Meeting” in that class. Students listed things that they thought were working well in class, along with things that needed to be improved. We then talked about how we were going to address each of the items in the “needs improvement” list. I felt like it was a fairly productive session, and I also think calling it a Family Meeting sent an important message. At the end of the conversation, I told them I was sorry for allowing my frustration to come through the day before, and how I need to keep my emotions in check in those situations. I didn’t go on and on, basically following the advice Bill Severns offers in his book The Sandlot Strategy. Bill writes, “When the inevitable time comes that you make a mistake, don’t pretend it didn’t happen, but also don’t go nuts and overreact in the opposite direction. Just apologize, work to correct your behavior and go on “. That’s what I tried to do, and it seemed to go over well.
Apologizing to 6th grade students isn’t the easiest thing to do sometimes, but it’s been said the most powerful two words in our language are “I’m sorry”. I hope my example sends a message of honesty and humility that these kids will take to heart, and might even help them handle a similar situation someday.