The Teacher Makes the Choice
One of my all time favorite quotes for teachers was written by Dr. Haim Ginott and comes from his book Between Teacher and Child.
“I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher I possess tremendous power to make a child’s like miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated, and a child humanized or de-humanized.”
Oh, how I wish I had written that myself. I am so grateful that someone did. The book, Between Teacher and Child is around forty years old and yet contains advice that is timeless.
A Great Measuring Stick
It IS our personal approach that creates the climate in the classroom. Do we provide a welcoming presence. Are we pleasant and approachable? Can students trust our moods? Or are we the grinch that only smiles twice a year. We honestly do have the power to make a student’s life joyous or miserable. We teachers have had teachers too. We all can remember a teacher who was a tool of torture. We’ve all had a teacher who honestly was an instrument of inspiration.
A word of caution here: A teacher cannot truly be an instrument of inspiration if they are a tool of torture to only one or two students. Students are always watching. I believe they judge teachers on the way they treat the most challenging child in the class.
I’ve been sitting in high school teacher cafeterias and listened to something a teacher said to a student that made me wonder who was the adult in the classroom. Trying to “one up” a student who has just made an inappropriate comment in class is a losing proposition for any teacher. Professionalism goes out the window. Sometimes it is tough to listen, absorb, and under-react but retaliating an inappropriate comment with a sarcastic one, only escalates the negative. It may feel like a win in the short term, but it is a long term loss.
I chose a lighthouse to illustrate this point for a reason. Lighthouses demonstrate their real worth during inclement times. So do teachers. It’s easy to be a good teacher when everything is going smoothly. But great teachers reveal themselves during the tough times.
A teenager stands up and yells profanities at you in class, then stomps out slamming the door on their way out of the room. (Yes, this has happened in my classroom). What do you do? The choice is yours. Do you escalate the situation or attempt to de-escalate it? Before you make your choice, take a deep breath and then pause. Every student will be watching your reaction. You are the beacon in this moment. Will you dehumanize the student? A teen is a child with longer legs, raging hormones and often tumultuous emotions. You are the adult. What you do next defines you as a teacher.
TEACH…To Change Lives
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