I am one of those people in real life that is very frank and honest. This issue came up in school yesterday when a student was having a tantrum because he didn’t like his picture, the thing is it was not exactly what I had drawn, and was not like what the other kids at his table had drawn, but nonetheless it was really creatively outstanding. I made him take it back to his seat to work on it. After a minute I noticed the throwing himself about in his chair, arms crossed, lip sticking out, you know the look if you have ever spent time around kids. This is where honesty plays out the best for me as a teacher. I will tell a kid here have another paper, try that again, or you know you can do better than that, take it back to your seat and add more details, and take the time to draw better. I know what they can and cannot do after years of working with the same children. I do not do this with kindergarteners, I actually say very little to them except in specific praise, and in first grade I may challenge them to add more, but as they get older I do not hesitate to speak the truth about their art. So I said hey listen, I don’t lie. Ask your classmates, if I think your picture is not good I will tell you. But I am telling you I love your picture, it is different from everyone else’s picture, but that doesn’t mean its bad, in my book it may mean it is good. Your picture is very creative and interesting and I cannot wait to see where it takes you. At this point the other children at his table agreed, Ms. Gregory would tell you if it wasn’t good. And then after a few minutes I went to check on him, he was smiling in a self conscious kind of way but he had carried on. Yes.
Another person in the same class was sitting off to the side with two naughty children. One just has poor impulse control, and we were avoiding not one but two arguments with two alpha male boys in the class who were admonishing him to behave, and the second is a special ed child who has a long hard road ahead of him in this life. The third person whom I handed a paper, was hunched over his work. I walked up and looked over his shoulder. And was surprised to see some pretty good drawing going on. Mr. B. I said that you were hiding your secret talent. He looked up at me with his rather handsome face, made more handsome by his good as gold attitude, and my affection for him after he told me I was alright in that inner city speak that said he found me to be a good girl and attractive but he is married happily. He was a bit embarrassed and exclaimed that it really wasn’t any good and he shouldn’t have even tried. Then I had to give him hell because just a couple weeks ago he stood and listened as I counselled A. a very very talented kid in the same class because she is always putting down her outstanding work. I walked over to her and looked at her drawing, and said, Mr. B. sounds just like you. He came over too and I said yep Mr. B. her drawing is definitely better than yours, but yours is still good. He was laughing, but you could tell he was pleased.
My other friend at work has self esteem issues. She is going through a very nasty divorce and has been verbally abused for many years. She is gorgeous, drop dead gorgeous, and dresses to the nines every single day. She will come to me from time to time. Ms. G. she will say, tell me honestly do you like this, is this skirt too short, is my hair color okay, what do you think of _____…whatever. And I tell her I like this, I don’t like that, that is not a flattering fit. And so on. She values my honesty. She seeks it out. She knows that I won’t just tell her what she wants to hear.I have a very acerbic sense of humor, acerbic defined as sharp and forthright. I can be quite sarcastic (see previous posting on this topic), some people can take it, others cannot. One of my students generally can, he teases me, and at times I tease him back. One day his teacher asked me to keep an eye on the class while she went to the bathroom, I did but when she came back and asked how they were I said they were all good except for J., she looked aghast but he burst out laughing. He got it. J.’s dad died a few months ago, and for the last week or so he seemed really down. He came over to me yesterday about something. I asked him if he was ok. He said yeah, blinking, but I knew better. You seem down, I said. His eyes suddenly had tears in them. I just hugged him. He was crying on my shoulder. After a minute I said go to the bathroom wash your face, and then gestured to P. whose dad died a couple years ago. They have formed a fast friendship over baseball and well…. mutual grief. After five minutes or so they came back and all was well, or mostly. But this is it. I teased him that day in a sharp manner. But I also know, that he has opened up to no one. My heart is there, wide open. My students and those that love me best know this.
The problem with an open heart is that it is vulnerable to attack. And I have been attacked twice this year. Once by a co worker, who didn’t like my sense of humor. Once by a woman I have never met and do not know. She presumed to be in a position in our family to attack me on a joke I made to my cousin’s son. A joke taken as a joke and laughed at in good humor. She didn’t take it that way. But something fundamental has changed, because although I checked what she said to make sure I was perceiving myself correctly, her comments did not change my fundamental attitude nor my day to day demeanor. This is a break through for me. It just didn’t effect me with deep hurt. I was mad as hell at her coming after me when she knows nothing about me, or about the people I love that she is only just getting to know, but it was like a lumbering horse fly, annoying as hell but just horse fly. I like this strength I have gained. I like it alot. I also am really in this place where I no longer feel a need to be liked by everyone I meet. Because frankly I don’t like everyone I meet either. I try really hard and sometimes fail at being compassion, kind, understanding, but I know that I am firm and strong and good. It is a great feeling.