Gritty Details

Friday, December 7, 2018

Tonight's Poet Corner: Introspection

I am an emotional person.

In other news, cows produce milk and vaccines prevent you from getting measles.

Yes, it may seem weird that I'm mentioning this. Everyone who loves me knows that I'm emotional. I am extremely sensitive. I don't wear my heart on my sleeve - I wear it pulsing on my arm. There are benefits to this. People can tell I'm genuine, know that I can empathize with them during hard times, and can tell that emotion allows me to be creative and in tune with at least some aspects of the human condition.

And while for the most part, especially in a professional setting, I've worked hard to keep my emotional side tamped down, when it comes to moments of stress, pressure, and discomfort, my emotional side can really rear the uglier part of its head. It has not helped that I have a history of being bullied, or that I suffer minor forms of compound trauma due to bad job experiences in the past. So it's been a lot of work to build a shield to deflect harsh words, jabs, or anger.

Unfortunately, some of my emotional side has recently showed up at my job, specifically in one class in particular.

Spoiler alert: It's none of my English classes. I know. Shocker, right?

Running a team that is meant to create a product that costs a lot of money and holds a lot of sentimental value to a lot of people - a team comprised of teenagers, no less - is not an easy task. Most people understand that. And while most of the time, it feels fulfilling, other times, it is absolutely exhausting and soul-sucking. It also doesn't help that most of my team frequently communicates in text form, meaning that all tone is stripped away and wording becomes questionable. I have been confronted with a lot of tension, disrespect, and sass in my class. I have had students snap at me, accuse me of false things, challenge my authority as a teacher, and figuratively poke at me until I can feel my head hurting and my innards boiling. I know I have to be the adult in the room, and I am obligated to deal with the rudeness and the defensiveness, but after a while, it gets really difficult to manage.

So, recently, I've felt more vulnerable. And that's meant that a couple of times, much to my chagrin, I've been a bit snappy, and I've been upset around my students. I have shown that I am human, I have limits, and that after a while, I cannot always deal with the constant barrage of negativity in such a small space without breaking down a little. I am the teacher, after all, and disrespect towards the teacher ought to be dealt with strongly.

And according to some students and parents, that makes me a volatile, unapproachable sentient bomb.

That...really, really sucks.

I get it. The teacher needs to keep cool. The teacher needs to be the calm one, the level-headed one, especially when a class can't manage their baggage without a steady leader. And teenagers are already massive bundles of emotions; they direct them toward adults but can't figure out how to handle it when adults react emotionally in exchange. I am certainly not condoning that teachers flip out 24/7 and make their students uncomfortable. They need to be grounded and professional and adept at handling their feelings. And I can do that. I can be grounded and professional. I am grounded and professional at least 90% of the time, even in an elective class that is notorious for making everyone, even the most zen of people, feel like they're losing their minds.

But to not allow me to make mistakes - to unfairly declare me volatile (which is such a harsh word already, and the connotation is just so skewed, and my wife tells me to stop dwelling on it, but I'm only proving her point here and it's haaaaaaaaaaaard) because I have cried in front of my students or become blunt or candid about my feelings in either text form or verbally - that not only hurts, but it also invalidates my feelings as a human being. Like if I show one crack in the stone, then it doesn't matter that I've been reasonable and able to handle stress most other times - it's just the crack that matters, and it makes me some sort of irrational harpie. And my goodness, have my elective students exploited the hell out of my emotional moments. Instead of sympathizing, or realizing that perhaps their behavior needs to be modified, or maybe they should respect the adults in the room, they simply put the blame on me. They'd rather call me unstable and claim I "provoked them" than take any responsibility for their actions, which can deeply affect me as an individual.

Which just tells me that I have some tough choices to make in the future. I know I can and will always improve as an individual and an educator, and God knows that in this current rampant call-out culture, I am terrified of seeing any of my words - spoken or written - warped, distorted, or taken out of context. But I'm not sure how much I can perfect a poker face, or bottle up my feelings without worrying that they'll bubble over and just reinforce the unfair allegations aimed toward me. I know I'm a good teacher - but can I be a teacher who can endure all the artillery fired without showing a single wound?

And some of my students get it - they see my emotions and understand that I'm a person, and they appreciate that I can relate to them and empathize when they go through the same turmoils. I've always found that my greatest strength was in breaking down walls and barriers between my class and myself. But I guess sometimes, it only works when I validate other people's emotions, while they refuse to validate mine. And that's incredibly disappointing.

I got to go to the local tree lighting tonight with my amazing mom and my wonderful wife, and they were so kind to indulge me as I analyzed and re-analyzed and re-re-analyzed all that's happened to me over the past month. My wife has been an absolute saint, and my mom's rational side is a godsend. I wish I had those traits that they have. I want those traits; I want to work towards those traits. But perhaps part of the solution is also to take myself out of the situation that is affecting me like this in the first place. And maybe then, all the other struggles I'm having - my fluctuating communication skills, my mood, my ability to resolve conflicts - could be mended, and I could go back to how I taught before, with a clearer mind, a cooler tongue, and a better emotional balance,

This year is different. Something needs to change. I'm just not sure what has to change more: Me or my environment. And my loved ones have been telling me the same thing - that my feelings and my self-care should always come first.

We'll see what my final decision is.

Have a great night and a great weekend, everybody.

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