Today was a tough teaching day for me, emotionally speaking. It was a good day in some ways–we are at the presentation season in my classroom, and that is always fun–I love hearing students struggle through their ideas, seeing the dawning realizations on their faces as their points start to make sense to themselves and each other. I am also happy, because today we hit the one week mark to the end of term. Yay!
But today was also one that hit me for a loop a few times, and reminded me that sometimes we are not just teachers, but counsellors, friends, and mentors. As I walked into my first class, I was almost immediately confronted by a student sobbing in the front row. I quickly assessed the situation and took her out into the hall. She couldn’t even talk, so I just comforted her and told her that there was no need for words. I think she mumbled something about dying, so I of course interpreted the situation and told her to sit down while I grabbed her things. Once back in the hall, I hugged her, gave her her bag and laptop, and sent her home. “Email me when you are ready,” I said. She looked at me gratefully, and then left–tears still in her eyes, but also a little relief.
She was supposed to present today, but would that have been the humane thing to do in this situation? Obviously not. Instead, I remembered a day when I was a sophomore in college, getting my own bad news and starting to cry in the middle of class before I hurriedly left. My professor came out, found out what was going on, hugged me, and then told me to go home and we’d work it all out (it was my grandfather’s passing, and I ended up having to take an Incomplete and miss my presentation in order to attend his funeral). That prof. has always stood out to me as one of the most compassionate individuals I met during my undergraduate studies. I hope that today I did my own professor proud.
Fresh off of this experience, I went to my next class–full of dread at what I was going to have to do. You see, last night I was reviewing some of this section’s work on the discussion board, and I came across two very hurtful, very abusive and inflammatory responses to some student work. Appallingly so. I instantly deleted them, but was so furious that I fumed all the way home from the office. And other students had read those responses, so I did not feel I could let it slide quietly by.
So today, I determined that I would not take the easy way out–I would talk about this in class, and make it a “life lesson” moment. Sure, I might embarrass the student, but I was more worried about the other students and what it might say to them if they thought I would condone or ignore such behavior. I of course did not refer specifically to the individuals in question, but I’m sure everyone knew who they were if they read the posts. I reassured the class that I did not condone this behavior, that it was deleted and that thankfully the individuals who were being discussed were not in our class, so hopefully no direct harm was done (they were commenting on anonymous student proposals from a variety of my sections.).
It was important to me that my students–both the culprits and the innocent–understand that it is not ok to be abusive or inflammatory on a public forum. They are preparing to do final online portfolios, and I wanted them to understand and appreciate the significance of this fact. Most importantly, I wanted them to remember that humans read these things–I’m human, my students are human. Even if they don’t say anything about or to me directly, I care about the people they were defaming. That hurts.
I was shaking with emotion while I addressed the issue, and then I composed myself and moved on. I didn’t want to dwell on it as the final thought for the day, but it needed to be done, and I’m glad I did it.
I’m a bit drained now from all of this–it certainly wasn’t what I expected to encounter on an otherwise regularly scheduled class day. But it was a good reminder that we can’t let our classroom agendas interfere with common sense, or with basic human values. In fact, those might be the most important lessons that we can share with our students.
And I hope I never lose sight of the fact that students are people, too.