Sunday, February 21

Operation Nice: FAIL

Below is a rather honest post. I almost hate to push publish, but I am going to be brave and do it.

A few years ago, when I started teaching, I came up with a rule for myself: always be nice; even when a student is annoying as hell, be nice; even when a student is rude, be nice in return - just kill her with kindness; even when the student is not particularly fun to be around, be nice. This rule has worked rather well for me, at least it has made me consider my actions towards others and try to react differently in heated or awkward situations.

Sometimes, however, the rule is hard to follow. I have broken it a few times; no lie. Each time that I have broken it, it has come back to taunt me. One circumstance happened recently and has been hard for me to shake, an incident with a young man whose name I will fail to mention. In fact, to regard his privacy in high-esteem, let's just call him a her - her being a girl named Rachel.

Everyday Rachel asked me a lot of questions. Sometimes I thought the questions were annoying and warranted eye-rolling, maybe just a little attitude. I forgot my own rule that "no question is a dumb question." Some days I would humor her and answer her questions, but I would do so with short, direct answers. Other days I would just stare at her blankly and tell her to ask someone else. Rachel caught on to my annoyance. She found my buttons; I showed them. It became a game. 

"Okay," Rachel seemed to think, "if my questions annoy her and she likes to make a mockery of them in front of the class, then I will show her annoying." 

And annoying she was. 
And the banter began.
Everyday Rachel would set out to be more and more annoying. My gig was up, my button pushed, my annoyance level "red." 

This went on for months, until one day Rachel did not show up for school. Relief? To say the least. Class was quiet, I had no one raising their hand an arguing with me, asking pointless questions. 

But Rachel did not show up the next day, or the next. A part of me began to miss Rachel - her noise, her inquisitiveness.

One day, a student who shall also remain anonymous said,
"Hey, where is that girl you hate? She has not been here for a while."

Immediately and defensively, I gasped as I crossly responded,
"I like Rachel, how dare you say that!"

My card had been shown. I knew it, everyone else knew it. Everyone knew that Rachel often pushed my buttons and they took it as me not liking her. To be honest, I did not even know if I liked Rachel because I did not give Rachel a chance. If I could have gotten past the questions, I could have formed a relationship with this student and completely diffused what came to be a somewhat volatile and unfortunate relationship.

That very  moment was horrible for me. I hated that they thought I hated. Hate is an ugly thing. In that moment, I truly considered how I had been treating Rachel. Was it with the same respect in which I hope my daughter's teacher will someday treat her? We all know that answer is no.

The moment only lingered and got worse as Jemil raised his hand to inform all of us that Rachel's father had unexpectedly passed away.

I realize that Rachel's father passing away was not my fault; I am not going so far as to blame myself for her misfortune.I'm not crazy.  Life happens. Horrible, sad things happen, even to students that I feel are too young to face tragedy. I will admit that I do, however, feel regret. My heart immediately washed with sorrow - sorrow for her loss, sorrow for the opportunity that I had and did not take with Rachel. I could have turned our relationship into a positive one, when instead,  I encouraged negativity.

In that moment, I wished that I had been nicer to Rachel. I wish that maybe I would have been one of the teacher's that she could have come to and shared her grief. I wish that I could have even felt comfortable sending a card. Right, I know, I could have still sent a card, but to Rachel, in her time of grief,  would she really want to hear from the teacher that she thought hated her?  I would not want to hear from me, if I were her.

I am playing the nice game from now on - the suck it up and be nice game. Because it is true, not only do we not know what is going on in others' lives, but we do not know what is coming around the corner, either.

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