An Angry Teacher and Mr. Rogers
I am angry.
Well, I was angry. Or I still am. I don’t know in this moment. I had planned to write a post to process my anger when I woke up yesterday. I was going to be open about the fact that I find myself swearing and venting and spewing grossness from inside because I have let anger take my peace, and I was hoping that the grace would come in the confessing.
But then I went to see Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, and I don’t know anymore.
Instead of angry, I feel sad or healed… or maybe convicted. It might be all these emotions together. It’s just that I watched a man live with such love and tenderness, and it melted the undercurrent of rage within me.
Lately, I’ve been frustrated, tired, and worn out. I feel walked on, unseen, and undervalued in my place of work. And just when I thought my environment couldn’t get worse, it did.
Then I sat in the theater, and Mr. Rogers looked right at me. He demonstrated how to love and how to carry the weight and to manage the anger.
And as I watched, I wondered if I’d completely lost focus of why I do what I do. I wondered if I had started to measure my work against the wrong standards.
I’ve been trying to fix a broken educational system and banging my head against walls that are only likely to be built higher and thicker. I see the students, but the system sees only numbers and a need to present an image of success regardless of the reality. Of my 140+ students, about 75 have been completely failed by our system, and I am losing myself trying to pull them from the undertow and teach them how to “student.”
But after tonight, I am wondering about how to go back to focusing first on making every student feel seen, heard, and valued.
I can’t undo in one year 12 years of reinforcing poor educational habits, but I can be the one who says, “I like you as you are / Without a doubt or question / Or even a suggestion / Cause I like you as you are,” when a student is spiraling out of control and reacting in fear and anger to the statement that he needs to change anything about his actions.
You may ask why I would say the lyrics to one of Mr. Roger’s songs to students who are defiant, apathetic, or disrespectful, and the answer is simple: grace.
There is something about looking people in the eyes and seeing them.
I often ask students to stand still and look me in the eyes when I call them into the hall to discuss behaviors. You would be amazed by how many find this task incredibly difficult.
When our eyes meet, they know I see them, not a number, and they see me, not a system. I give them the boundaries and a chance to return.
But God, grace is so tiring.
I am so tired, and I needed Fred Rogers to remind me that grace doesn’t run out. There isn’t a limited supply.
A few years ago, I started to tell my students that they are here on purpose, with a purpose and that they each have value simply by the fact that they were created. Somewhere this year, I’ve forgotten how to teach that lesson.
I’ve told them I love them and I want them to succeed, but I have gotten hung up on helping them succeed and allowed the bigger lesson to sit on the sidelines.
There is a scene in which Mr. Rogers tells Mr. Vogel to be silent for one full minute and think about all the people who have loved him to make him who he is. I want to be one of the people my students would think of.
I want them to look back and say, she really loved me, even when I didn’t deserve it. Or she really loved me whether I did well in her class or not. Or she really loved me enough to tell me to get my head out of my butt and keep trying. Or… I don’t know really. I just know that I can teach these kids comma usage and that they matter at the same time.
Sometimes I get it right, but sometimes I allow my anger and frustration with all the brokenness to build and overcrowd the heart of grace.
And I’ve been banging on all the low keys on the piano for so long it’s hard to remember the other notes are there waiting to be played.
I want to go back to praying for my students in the moment of silence at the start of the day:
“God, help me show them your love today.”
And I want to let the pain of thoughtless words from leadership slip away instead of allowing them to scab and scar… and block the flow of my beating heart.
I am a mess right now. I am a tired mess.
God, help me to get it right tomorrow. Give me grace again for another day.