The Beauty of the Honest Teacher

Can we normalize teacher honesty? Let me explain what I mean.

Recently, after I had asked one of my classes how they were doing and they mumbled something that sounded like “okayidontknowidratherbeinebed”, a single student asked me how I was doing. My answer?

“I’m not feeling this day so far.”

Photo by Abbie Bernet on Unsplash

The student just nodded her head, gave me a fistbump, as we kept it moving. That head nod and fist bump might seen inconsequential to you, but to me, it is an example of what our students can learn when we are not the happy-go-lucky, always smiling, hyper-energetic teacher. See, Instagram will condition us to believe that teaching is, or should still be, all rainbows and sunshine (Teacher Tik Tok is a whole ‘nother place, though). We hear messages like smile through it, and maybe that was the rule of the day, but right now?

Nah, son.

When I am emotionally honest with my students, it presents an opportunity on many fronts.

  1. Being honest about where I am emotionally is a great way to build inroads with students who are where I may currently find myself. We all have those students who think they are good at hiding how they feel, but are really bad at it. If I’m not in a great place, allowing that student to see how forthcoming I am with “not being that great” is a perfect way for them to learn something from me that is unspoken. I’ve had had countless of those kids actually come to me and tell me that things were going to be okay. That is a huge amount of empathy, which leads to my second point.
  2. When we allow students to be empathetic, they will always step up to the plate. I’m not sure where the trope of the indestructible teacher comes from, but I have always been an emotionally honest educator. When I let my kids in on the truth that me, as their teacher, will not always be “good” or even “okay”, it opens the door for them to be there for me in ways that I have tried to be there for them many times. I have found it to be true, that students do enjoy showing appreciation in taking care of one of their own who is not having a great class, or a great day. And when I express to them that I am not in the best place, so many walk through the open door that I have presented to them. Kids are empathetic. We just have to allow them to grow into it and own it. It speaks volumes when a student places a hand on your shoulder and says nothing else.
  3. If we are committed to SEL, we have to practice what we preach. Modeling healthy knowledge of self before our students can be some of the most powerful lesson plans that we use over the course of the school year. The “I do, we do, you do” brand of instruction has yielded such great results for so many students academically, so why not where socio-emotional learning is concerned? It is alright to not be alright, and it is okay to let your students know that you might not be okay. It presents a beautiful lesson that even when my feelings may say otherwise, I can still do the hard work of teaching and being present for all of my students. It is not about proving strength. It is all about physical demonstration of the power of human will. We can do hard things….even when those things feel extremely hard.
Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

If the pandemic has shown me anything, it has shown me that grit has been lost. The thinking that “my feelings rule me” has become pervasive in classrooms across the world. Covid sapped children of an essential precociousness that informs them that there is nothing they can not do, even when there are odds stacked against them. It is still in there, but it just needs some help to reappear. Maybe, just maybe, what helps them find their own strength is allowing them to be strong for someone else…even you, Teach.

*Disclaimer: I’m not asking you to spill your ugly secrets or the hardships that contribute to those feelings. I’m just asking you to consider that not saying “I’m okay”, when they ask could be a good thing.

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