Every teacher knows how critical the first weeks of school can be. Routines need to be established, classroom community needs to be built, and curriculum needs to be taught. There's just a lot going on every second of the day. So when I had to unexpectedly be out three days during the first week of school for a family emergency, you could say I was a little frazzled.
On my return flight, I made two big mistakes going through security: I forgot to take off my belt, and I left my liquids in my carry-on. Frustrated, the security officer snipped at me: "Weren't you listening?!"
I'm not a seasoned traveler, but I know the drill when it comes to navigating airport security lines. I simply made these mistakes because it was a stressful trip and my mind was somewhere else. I was embarrassed and hurt by the incident because I was already emotionally fragile and I didn't mean to make these silly mistakes in the first place. I also didn't like being singled out for something I'm sure is a normal occurrence in the security line.
I started to think about how often I've thought or said those words to my own students in frustration - weren't you listening?! - and the possible feelings I may have hurt because of it.
Perhaps those students weren't listening for a reason. Perhaps something stressful, sad, scary, or life-changing was going on in their lives. If only I would have asked them if everything was okay, rather than taken it personally. The incident was a great reminder that we're not always at our best when we come to work or school, and that sometimes we make mistakes because there are bigger things on our minds.
As this school year unfolds I want to strive to be perceptive and empathetic - to not be so wrapped up in the details and not let my authority as "the teacher" impact the dynamic of the classroom. In those times of frustration, I hope to channel that moment in the airport, remembering that we're all fighting a hard battle and that the stories and experiences we bring to our classroom are what make it a special place to be.