photo credit: Facebook.com
My dad posted this meme on Facebook not too long ago and I can't stop thinking about it. He just got home from the hospital yesterday after having spent several days there. We were all very worried about him and we're glad he's home now. 

Life sometimes hits you hard! 

Yesterday, one of my largest classes was happily and busily  printmaking with colored inks and there were a lot of kids at the sink, washing the color off their printing plates so they could try another. The sink backed up, causing the pipes to back up, and water came gushing out into the hallway. We had to stop everything, turn off the water, get out the mop, and I had to clean up all those printing plates, inking tiles, and brayers later that day when I could send kids with buckets to the restroom for water. 

The classroom was a mess (and stayed that way for hours) and I had to think of an alternative assignment for the rest of the day. But, it didn't really upset me. Middle school is always chaotic so you just go with the flow (no pun intended!)

However, I had to deal with an angry parent last week, and an angry student yesterday. I am an extremely empathetic person, so I tend to be affected by other people's emotions in an intense way. There is an awful lot of negative energy swirling around when people are upset, yelling, and throwing out accusations. I can handle all manner of chaos at school and in the classroom, but it just ruins my day when someone gets upset with me, even though I know (intellectually), that it has nothing to do with me. 

When I was in graduate school I worked as a barista at Starbucks. (I can still make a mean coffee drink and smoothie!) One life lesson I learned while there was this; however other people treat me has absolutely nothing to do with who I am. They behave however they choose, and the only person I can control is ME. I still remember standing behind that coffee counter and being thunderstruck by the realization. 

I am responsible for me, and only me. If someone else is rude to me, only I control how I respond. I could choose to be rude, or I could choose to be kind. I really have no way of knowing what the rude person is going through, do I? 

Everyone goes through life's problems differently. Some of us have extra supports, such as great parents and supportive colleagues and administration (like I have). Other people have zero support, health issues, and a lot of stress in their lives - the catastrophe with the hallway flood may have ruined another art teacher's day, but not mine. 

The angry student who pitched a fit, however, really got to me. Though I was upset, I went out to the hallway (where I sent the child to calm down) and made a concentrated effort to see things from the child's point of view. We talked, a better choice was made by the child, and the situation deescalated (for the time being.) For the rest of the day, though, I felt drained. It seemed as if all my energy went into the mental and emotional work of dealing with that one student. My patience with the rest of my classes was shortened, to say the least! 

It turns out that the angry parent was extremely upset with other teachers at the school and happened to mix up the art teacher with the stories the child told. All the things I was accused of didn't really have anything to do with me or my class at all, and we got everything sorted out. Relationships with that family have improved greatly, thanks to a willingness to listen and understand. 

There are plans being made to teach Steven Covey's "Seven Habits" next year at the middle school where I teach. One of these is, "Seek first to understand, then to be understood." I am absolutely thrilled about this; I have wanted my school to incorporate this philosophy ever since I read that book. 

It all boils down to the Golden Rule, actually. Everyone is different. All I can do is try really hard to see from another's point of view and understand, and hope that they will do the same for me. 

Who am I to judge? 


  • Click here for more information about how to deal with disrespectful students.

article by Mrs. Anna Nichols


Mama G said...

Thank you for this realization, Anna. We mentally "know" the truths you stated, but our reaction is often less pro-active and more negative. I appreciate this important reminder. -Becky Guinn

Phyl said...

Wow, I'm loving this article! I recently had a personal incident/misunderstanding with a high school friend, who completely misinterpreted something innocent I had said on Facebook, and who I doubt will ever speak to me again. I've come to realize that she has walked a completely different path than I have over the 40 years since we've actually seen each other. She, a high-powered urban attorney in business suits and fancy condos, with no children, and no interest in or experience with children, and me, the small-town gal who has spent her life with kids and messes, in a modest home and clothes covered in paint. Our lives have been so different it's like we speak a totally different language, and she didn't care for my language at all. Sometimes, when someone wants to judge, I guess I have to let them judge, and be comfortable enough with who I am that I don't let their verdict hurt me. Does that make sense?


Yes, it makes sense. We can't help how other people respond and I am so sorry to hear about the miscommunication with your old friend. This is just my opinion, but I think when people get all bent out of shape because of something someone said, it touched a nerve because they need to deal with a personal issue. I always, always question myself when I get offended - what do I need to learn from that person?
It is very true that hurting people hurt people.

Phyl said...

Yes, I think you are right. Our old friendship rekindled maybe 3 or 4 years ago, in side conversations in games of Words with Friends; we had a mutual respect for each other's competitive game-play with words and strategy. But over these years, I began to realize how many times I have had to explain myself to her, when she got upset by something I said, or something I didn't say. Sometimes, it was as simple as me not taking a turn or responding to a conversation for a few days because I was busy! I would have to explain that, for example, when you have children, or grandchildren (I have step-grands), your priorities change, and if a few days went by and I didn't respond to something she said, it didn't mean I didn't care, but I was simply BUSY. It showed a deep insecurity on her part. And if I didn't agree with her politics, I didn't dare say. Again, deeply insecure. At this point, while its sad to lose a friendship, I am actually relieved to not have to be constantly on the defense, or constantLy putting "bandaids" on something I said the wrong way. It makes me realize that perhaps there was a good reason I didn't see her for 40 years.

Anyhow - thanks for letting me use your blog post as a free therapy session! ;)


I actually just watched the actor John Cleese in a video clip, he was talking about people who get offended easily; He said, "If people can't control their own emotions, then they have to start trying to control other people's behavior... and when you're around super sensitive people you can't relax and be spontaneous because you have no idea what will upset them next." It's a really interesting clip - I'll message you.