First year teacher makes massive mistake and lives to tell.

My first year teaching was so full of learning. Not only had I moved to Fort McMurray from Edmonton, I was teaching a first year teacher’s typical assignment. You know the one… a little bit of everything, no overlaps, multiple grade levels…we are so kind to new teachers!

I thought I was pretty darn good at what I was doing. The parents seemed to like me. The kids loved my stories which I seemed able to tie into every lesson. The staff accepted me and took my ideas with out too many eye rolls or heavy sighs. I was floating on the “I AM THE GREATEST FIRST YEAR JUNIOR HIGH TEACHER ALIVE” cloud. And then it happened…

I had one particularly challenging student. He would start a class revolt every time I asked for written work. “This is Social Miss E, not LA, so don’t think you can make us write,” he would begin. It didn’t matter that I explained the cross-curricular advantage to essay writing in grade eight Social. This young man, known throughout the school as the trouble maker, the rabble-rouser, the scallywag that would set my hair on end. “By the end of this year, Melissa, you will need some Valium because of that one,” his previous teachers would state. “He is a lazy, attention seeking so and so who will do nothing during class and take the majority of your time,” another shared. No one told me anything much about him other than he would give me an ulcer. I was full of passion for teaching, so I kept trying to get him on my side.

One day, a particularly trying day, I might add, I went to my last block grade eight Social class with nothing left. I had just spent the day with three grade four, five and six FSL classes making snacks as a part of our Nutrition unit. A blender had not been closed correctly…well, you can imagine. I was exhausted and not interested in another class about latitude and longitude. I walked into class with my grumpy pants on and did not see the curve ball my young gent was prepping to throw.

I began my lesson as planned. I went through my explanations, asked my questions and got the class talking. He was tuned out with his head on the desk. It came time to assign the work that I had spent two hours prepping the night before. Atlases in hand, I excitedly gave the instructions out. “You are going to plan a trip around the world using longitude and latitude…” His head came off his desk and in a loud booming voice he stated that he would take a trip around the world as long as it got him farther from _____’s B.O. and closer to Miss ___’s breasts.” Wow…that was it.

“OUT!” I screamed.

“Where would you like me to go?” he asked calmly.

“I don’t care where you go, just get out of here!” I yelled.

He left, giving out high fives to some of the guys as he left. When the door closed, I quietly asked the students to begin their assignments. They had never seen me lose it, so they were pretty docile and got straight to work. I sat at my desk and covered my eyes. After a few deep breaths, I knew I could have a chat with him without losing my cool. I had a plan to approach him calmly and tell him that while I should not have yelled, I was not okay with him making such comments. I envisioned a great opportunity to reach an understanding with him.

I walked out, expecting to find him in the hall. He was not there. I walked around the school. He was not to be found. I finally gave up and went to the office and had him paged. He did not come. Oh boy.

I walked into the principal’s office with shame and explained the situation. Without a word, she called his house, and sure enough he was there. She asked him to return to school and to her office immediately, and he said he would. I returned to my class, sat in shock at my desk and waited for class to end. The kids left quietly after the bell rang, their spidey senses tingling!

When my name was called over the loud speaker, I walked quickly to the office, cheeks red. There he was. The principal asked why he left and he told her that he had asked point blank where he should go and I had said I didn’t care. She let him know that she was very disappointed in his choice, that he knew full well I wanted him to wait in the hall and that she didn’t want to hear of this kind of thing again. She asked him to apologize to me for causing me stress and he did. She dismissed him and closed the door.

She looked me straight in the eye and said, “I don’t think I have to tell you what went wrong here, do I?” “No,” I quietly replied, “I’m sorry.” She nodded and said, “You’ll beat yourself up over that for years to come, but I think you have learned a very fine lesson. Melissa, you are new and you will make mistakes. I will always support you as best I can in front of others. ”

The next day I found that kid outside of class and thanked him for teaching me to be more specific when I talk to students. He laughed and said that he was glad he could be of service. He and I did not have any more issues after that day…we had an inside joke and eye contact could make us laugh out loud. At the grade eight farewell celebration, he gave me a hug and thanked me for making him feel like I respected him. I was dumbstruck. That incident brought him and I closer together, helped me have faith in my administration  and helped him have faith in adults. Wow.


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Michelle Baldwin
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 15:49:24

    Thanks so much for sharing this story! We all made 1st year teacher mistakes… and 2nd year teacher mistakes, and 3rd year… and so on. I really believe that our kids, regardless of age, respect us and LEARN more from us when we admit our own mistakes, things we don’t know, etc. It’s easier to become partners in learning with mutual respect. You’re luckier than most. A lot of educators don’t learn this lesson as early as you did.

    Not only do you have a great story to share, but so will he. 🙂


    • missateaches
      Jun 02, 2010 @ 05:11:36

      It has been a tremendous story…eight years later it still makes me laugh! I think the thing that has made me lucky is that I have been surrounded by excellent people who have been free with their support and advice. Most times, I feel like I am the luckiest person to have found the amazing career I have!


  2. koolkat222
    Jun 01, 2010 @ 16:27:19

    You are so lucky to have such a supportive principal! I’m glad this incident brought some sort of an understanding between you and that student.

    You sound like a terrific teacher. Always appreciate a great administration because not all of them are supportive.


  3. cyndyb
    Jun 02, 2010 @ 17:14:06

    My prof pointed me towards your blog. I’ve enjoyed reading your entries. I, too, am trying to balance family and work and have many, many mistakes I could write about it. Fortunately I, too, have had supportive administrators. They make such a difference! This year I am teaching half time in a grade 1 class (part of my balancing act), but have been laid off and don’t know where I’ll be placed next year. I am also working on my master’s diploma in the area of teaching and technology.

    I agree…we have the best job in the world. And it is often the most difficult student that brings about the most rewarding experiences. Keep up the good work.


    • missateaches
      Jun 03, 2010 @ 06:28:48

      It is a challenge to balance, but it’s another type of learning experience. Good luck with your job search. I truly believe that even though it is tough to work through budget cuts and such, everything happens for a reason! I know you’ll find a good gig that you love!


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