“Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.” – Lucille Ball
This past year was more painful as a teacher than I could imagine. But through the pain, I learned a valuable lesson, I discovered something that defined everything about my classroom, both good and bad.
Classroom management has a lot of facets. A well-run classroom can be defined by several things, just to name a few: procedures, high expectations, engaging curriculum, firm and clear boundaries, and relationships.
There is one thing missing from that list, something we don’t talk about, and I learned it the hard way.
Last year around October I had an informal drop-in observation by my principal, it was one of those days where everything went bad. No student was listening, I was yelling, procedures were being broken, the energy in the room was awful, I was getting frustrated, and I wanted to quit. (I had many days like this in the fall). My notes from the observation were eye-opening, to say the least. The principal commented on my tone, posture, and interaction with the children which was described as “cold and scary.” I think those who know me well would say “how is that possible?!” I wondered that myself, but the truth is, it had been like this for a while, and things in the classroom weren’t getting better.
Among my attempts to get things right in the classroom, I had found a wonderful article on smartclassroommanagement.com about liking students that left me an imprint in me, and it gave me a lot of reflecting to do. While I tried hard to like those hard-to-like students just like the article said, it wasn’t panning out the way I had hoped.
Frankly, nothing was working. I tried it all; new routines, more consistency, better rules, etc. But with everything new I tried, it never worked, things were getting way worse. I was at the point where I almost put in my notice to quit.
I often peruse the site ProTeacher.net because I enjoy the wide array of forums available. It is not as popular as it used to be, but it is still active, and I enjoy it. I posted my cry for help because nothing in my classroom was working and I was ready to throw in the towel.
The teachers who responded were all very kind and gracious in their responses, but one stuck out to me the most. It has truly changed me and challenged everything I thought I knew about the classroom:
“You must like yourself first and foremost.”
Those words hit me HARD, and they still do.
It was at that moment I realized I didn’t like myself, in fact, I hated myself. I hated being gay, I hated my body, I hated that I never fit in, even as an adult. I hated my back problems, I hated feeling depressed ALL the time. And then, it all seemed to fall into place, my inner hatred turned into hating my class and teaching. It showed, every day in my tone, facial expression, and in my attitude. Everything about me and how I hated myself, I brought with me subconsciously to the classroom.
Low to no self-esteem can wreak havoc on everything in your life, including relationships, but I wasn’t aware of this at the time. I thought I was checking everything at the door, but that was far from the truth. My disdain for myself overflowed to everything in my life, including my students. I hate typing these words, but I must confront myself with the truth. Relationships are the cornerstone of any successful classroom, and as I look back and reflect, I can see now that my relationship with myself = awful. My relationships with my students = awful. I was depleted of love and compassion in my brain and my heart, I had none to give to myself or my students.
For the sake of this blog post, I will cut down a major story short. That observation and some other things that happened during the fall made me angry, and it turned into severe depression/anxiety/resentment/hatred. I am grateful I was able to get counseling to help resolve some major issues I had in my life. In February I was able to come out as a gay person, and since then, things in my classroom had started looking up. Not because I was now openly gay, but because I was resolving inner conflict, I was healing. And because of this, I started to like myself again. The secret I learned is that I must like myself as a person, to be the teacher I need and want to be. I learned that I must have the confidence, joy, and love that can only truly come from within, in order to be able to then give that confidence, joy, and love to my students.
The rest of this past school year was much better, and a lot of healing took place between me and the students. There were some relationships that were severely damaged, and they weren’t able to be fixed. I am truly sad about that, but I am grateful knowing that my next classroom, I will start fresh. I am learning to like myself for who I am as a person. I am taking time to care for myself and treat myself with compassion. I know that in the fall when I meet my students for the first time, I will have a genuine smile on my face that shows I will care for and love them. But most importantly, I will continue to care for, like, and love myself.
In the book “The compassionate classroom”, there is one page that discusses the teacher-self relationship, and it offers an insightful thought:
“A tendency to criticize and judge yourself usually results in being critical of others. Compassion for oneself is more likely to result in compassion for others.”
Let us all have more compassion for ourselves this fall.
My next classroom will have the version of me who is learning to like everything about myself, who celebrates the imperfections and works to keep changing and become the best person I know I can be. Will my classroom be perfect? Of course not. But I know now that I am on the path to a great, loving, and compassionate classroom.
*I need to make a disclaimer here, I do not want my words to be taken as “Wow, all Jeremiah does is like himself and everything in his classroom just works!” That is absolutely not the case. While this is the foundation for a successful classroom, all the pieces mentioned above are absolutely needed to create a smooth classroom. Liking yourself is simply the foundation.*