Careless comments

Last week, I received an email that had my blood boiling.  Perhaps it was just the end of a long week and I was stressed; perhaps I was just so tired of endless emails that I couldn’t help but get mad.  Whatever the reason, I took the email too personally, and this notorious author of offending emails had gotten under my skin.  My vision blurred a little on the edges until I managed to get myself under control, demonstrating enough restraint to not respond immediately with some snarky comment.  I taught the rest of my day, but when the final bell rang, I walked next door to my teaching partner-in-crime (a reader) to ask him to intervene on my behalf.

“You’re going to have to deal with this,” I said.  It wasn’t until I explained my request, that he speak with the author about her email transgressions, that I realized my mistake.  My partner-in-crime is guilty, too, and had gotten himself in trouble for a poorly timed suggestion sent to our department.

“You’re asking me to deal with this.  When I can’t avoid making people mad, either,” he said, smiling ironically.  “I just don’t read emails from that sender anymore.”

So I returned to my classroom, feeling little relief.  I’m too Type A to resort to auto-deleting emails from someone on the staff.  I was left to feel a little sad for my school.  By May, teachers are overwhelmed, tired, stressed, and very interested in catching up on TV they’ve missed over the last eight months.  So we’re abrupt, hurtful, and occasionally mean to one another, as if we’re not still on the same team.  There are moments in education (and I imagine in every profession) when the appropriate, professional solution to these issues is to take a deep breath and imagine that the offender didn’t mean to come across that way.  Perhaps she meant it as a joke? 

This isn’t the first time I’ve found myself hurt and disrespected by colleagues.  During the Homecoming dance two years ago, I found an unsigned note taped to the wall above the copy machine.  It asked, “If we’re so concerned about student achievement, why do we waste a week of school on Homecoming?”  Apparently, the note had been taped there nearly the whole week, but I was too busy running Homecoming—selling dance tickets, organizing lunch activities, taking questions from students and sponsors—to notice.  But I noticed it the night of the dance, when Stu and I had a school filled with more than 500 students at an event that had taken months to plan.  I was running on very little sleep, had spent every night until 10 or later at school at one event or another.  I didn’t make it to the front office before I was sobbing, snotty, hysterical sobbing.  Ironically, it was the hall monitor who I don’t like very much (he fusses at me for not writing passes) who caught my tears and sent my assistant principal to take care of me.  I was so hurt that one of my colleagues had so little respect for the hours of work by dozens of people for such an important event.  When I got my tears under enough control to tell my AP what had happened and why I was so hurt, my AP, in her wisdom, explained to me that some people would never “get it.”  Would never get how much work goes into these events, how much these memories mean to so many kids, how precious the relationships formed while decorating for the Homecoming dance are for some kids, and for some sponsors.  Those who don’t get it, she said, would never get it, no matter how we try to explain.  So that note wasn’t worth the energy or the tears.  It was probably an offhand comment, likely stemming from a moment of annoyance, perhaps his students weren’t paying enough attention in class, and the writer simply blurted the very first thing that came to mind without considering anyone else’s feelings. 

If I’m honest with myself, I realize that I’m not innocent: I sat in a meeting this week and explained, with little compassion, that their plan was wrong, only realizing afterward that I was a *little* harsh.  I’ve made kids cry every year that I’ve taught.  I told a kid who seriously struggles with my class that under no circumstances would I allow him to videotape a speech to ease some of his stress over public speaking.  I have been impatient with people who don’t do their jobs as well as I expect them to.  I’m quick to take offense, but fail to realize when I’m being unsympathetic or cruel.  That’s a tough pill to swallow. 

The lesson, I guess, is that we’re destined to hurt one another, whether we mean to or not.  But we do control our reactions.  I don’t need to get twisted over a careless email; it doesn’t do me any good.  Nor will it change someone’s behavior.

Has anyone’s careless comment ever made you spittin’ mad?  Ever made you cry?