Turn the Page

cc licensed ( BY SD ) flickr photo shared by andy.brandon50

Spring break. Two words that send a joyous surge through my body. Getting these ten days off feels like a glass of water after a journey across the desert. I really need the break and I am going to put the time to good use. I plan on recharging in the Mexican sun, playing a little golf, reading a few books and enjoying the time with my wife and a couple of great friends. It has been a long 7+ months in my new job and I hope to refuel before the 3 month homestretch.

Part of this week is going to be spent going through a very important process. I really need to “turn the page” on a few things. I need to move past some difficulties and allow myself to let them go. I have had a few situations that didn’t go as well as I wanted them to. I have also had a few situations or conversations where I found people either disagreeing with my decisions or alluding to my inability to deal with things as they thought I should. I have also had to listen to a few naysayers who don’t believe in the success of our building the way I do. In the spirit of professionalism I have no interest in even identifying which particular stakeholder groups this feedback has come from, let alone specific examples, and for the purpose of this post these specifics are unnecessary. The point is I have had to deal with some skepticism and even negativity pointed in my direction.

While I don’t believe I have handled everything perfectly, I do believe I have based my decisions on my principles and I have firmly believed in each instance that I was doing the right thing. I also know that people often form judgments based on limited information or a biased perspective, and that I can’t expect everyone to fully understand what has gone into each decision or even all the factors involved. To sum it up, I am ok with how I have handled most of the decisions I have had to make, regardless of the feedback.

So the question is how do I move forward and how do I allow myself to get past this. In George Couros‘s post yesterday he spoke about the “Hard Teaching“, and it reminded me of the hard lessons I had to learn during my time in Behavior Education. These hard lessons will be valuable to me in this process:

Leave My Work At Work

There were many days as a Behavior Education teacher in an alternate school that really tore me down. Whether it was difficult exchanges with students who had a lot of anger to deal with, or helping a student with a really tough home life, or even when we had students clearly battling an addiction, there were days I had difficulty eating or even sleeping. My principal saw quickly that I needed to learn to compartmentalize. I took my stress and worry home with me on a daily basis and it took its toll on my relationships and my mental and physical health. With his guidance, I learned to do my best to walk out the door of my school and leave as much as I could behind. I need to do this during my break as I have found myself taking more and more home and it is not healthy.

Its Not About Me

A lot of the time I would deal with students after they had made one or more poor decisions and I would need to deal with them in a discipline situation. As many of our students had difficulties with conflict resolution, anger management and emotional control, often these situations would break down and would end with the student verbally attacking me, our staff and our school. It was hard not to take the comments personally, especially from those bright kids who really knew how to cut deep with their words. I remember dragging myself into my principal’s office to review the day and him often amused by the stories. He tried hard to explain to me the importance of remembering where the anger was really coming from. Our students struggled with poor adult role models at home, broken and detrimental peer relationships, substance abuse, emotional issues and stress. He would often, and I mean OFTEN, remind me “It’s not about you”. He would remind me that if I let the situations get to me I wouldn’t do the job I was hired to do, I wouldn’t provide the modeling and stability that the rest of my students so desperately needed. I needed to show my students how to deal with adversity and how to move forward. In these situations I am currently dealing with, I need to remember that the negativity I have been receiving from people may be shaped or affected by far more than just me. I also need to remember that if I spend time focused on myself and having a pity party, I won’t be doing the job I was hired to do.

Don’t Lose Sight Of The Goal

In my role in the alternate school, I quickly learned about altering my expectations. In a traditional classroom I had found my success rate with students to be well over 90%. In a class of 30, I may have 1 or 2 students fail my class, but never more than that. In my role as a behavior educator, I realized I could not set the same goals for myself. I was lucky to have our amazing Assistant Superintendent visit me in my first few months and we had a great conversation about my goals for the class. I was struggling to find the time to teach all the core classes and work in time for all the other life lessons I wanted the kids to receive. He told me “We didn’t hire you to teach curriculum, we hired you to teach kids. If you spend a whole day on relationship building or limiting risk taking then so be it. You are here to help them learn to be good people.” After that conversation, I no longer measured myself based on student marks (I wish I learned that in University) but rather on helping my students grow as individuals. Now, my goal is to help run a school that provides quality learning opportunities for our students, that treats its students with respect and that challenges them everyday to be better, to learn and to grow. When I make decisions with these goals in mind, it will make it a little easier to allow myself to get past the difficulties.

As educators we are going to have situations that don’t go as we planned. A parent who rips into us, a student who tries their best to break us down, or even a colleague who doesn’t agree with what we do. Carrying the weight of those difficulties can’t possibly help us.  Yes, getting past those difficulties is hard, but it is necessary for us to be everything we can for our students and for ourselves. Turning the page is part of allowing yourself to make mistakes, to learn, to grow, to reflect and to continue on your journey. Turning the page in the next week will allow me to come back with the energy, positivity and dedication I need to continue. Mexico seems like as good a place as any to turn my page.

5 thoughts on “Turn the Page

  1. I think from time to time each of us struggles with the very issues you seem to have resolved (at least as goals…). The only one I think you will have a hard time reminding yourself will be the first. Leaving “work” behind is somewhat optimistic. You are in this profession BECAUSE you care.
    I hope this break will fuel you with a new passion for what you are doing. You obviously are a reflective educator and can step back to balance these issues in your life.
    Enjoy your vacation!

    • Thanks Cristina,

      I guess I should have spoke more to the idea of not dwelling on the negative, but you are right, we do care and we can’t lose sight of the fact we care.

      I’ll do my best to enjoy my trip! haha

    • Jesse – great post. In our field we often have to make hard decisions that will leave some unhappy. At the beginning of your post you allude to your own moral purpose. I think this helps more than anything – when you are able to step back and make the”right” choice for students it is easier to deal with potential fallout. Enjoy Mexico!

  2. Jesse,

    I am right with you in the need to turn the page. I had a very busy stretch of time between Christmas and Spring Break (it’s always the toughest part of the year for me).

    What works for me to turn the page is to focus on the successes you’ve had… the kids who loved spending the day building relationships or the teacher who does believe in the postive things going on in your school.

    Enjoy the break, I’ve enjoyed mine!

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