The Question that Always Delivers
Class had just begun, and I was standing in the center of our large engineering lab. It was my first year teaching, and this class had 32 fourteen-year-olds in it. I had been working my tail off with colleagues to create a 9th grade curriculum that would be fun, engaging, and effective in getting the content across, but I had begun to dread seeing this particular group of kids.
I’d think about them while falling asleep at night, and I’d think about them as soon as I woke up. If I woke up in the middle of the night, it was this class that I’d see as I tossed and turned myself back to sleep.
I knew that the problem was over there with them, and I found myself getting more irritated and punitive as the weeks progressed. This class was weighing on me.
So I stood in the center of class and took attendance. Then I scanned the room, looking each of them in the eyes. And then I apologized.
I apologized for blaming them for my feeling frustrated and stressed, ineffective and lame. I apologized for believing that they needed to conform to my ideas of good behavior in order for me to be successful as a teacher. I apologized for trying to get them to fit some mold instead of respecting where they are and working together from there.
I told them that regardless of how I may dislike their behavior, they are not responsible for my experience. My frustration isn’t for them to resolve. My feelings of ineffectiveness or insufficiency or inferiority aren’t for them to handle. My fears and disappointments don’t belong on their backs to carry.
Yes, they’ve got to bring more to the table too. They’ve got to get more focused in class if they’re going to work through and learn the material. But no, I will not blame them for my feeling like I’m not getting the job done.
To get to that point I had to ask myself the most powerful and transformative question I’d ever learned to ask. Whenever I’m feeling frustrated, angry, small, ineffective, or a victim, the one question that has never failed to deliver insight: "What am I avoiding being responsible for?"
I was avoiding being responsible for my own experience. My feelings of ease, enjoyment, success, and passion were dependent on my students. I had been pretending that my satisfaction and self-worth was conditional on how my students behaved.
I was avoiding being responsible as the educator in the room, for seeing the beautiful and unbreakable core of each of my students regardless of their behavior, for working with them fully to develop understanding. My love, compassion, and even my engagement was conditional on their behavior.
Taking responsibility is the most powerful tool we have. It’s not finding fault or blame, and it’s not meant to induce shame or guilt.
Blame is easy. Blame helped me avoid the discomfort of vulnerably looking at the true source of my emotions, the thoughts and judgments and limiting beliefs about myself. Blame allowed me to avoid considering who I might have to be to live more powerfully and free in my role as educator. By blaming my students for my experience, I was actually handing away all of my power and ability to actually thrive in my classroom.
Yes, we can hold each other accountable when it’s due, but holding another accountable is not the same thing as blaming them.
I told my class that I wouldn't be blaming them anymore.
Thanks for reading ❤️.
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