“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” ~Dr. Maya Angelou
As teachers, there are a few phrases that tend to just roll off the tongue. “It’s great to see y’all!…Come on, let’s go; it’s time to get after it…I love the idea you brought up, who can build off this?”
Throughout the year I’ve been using another phrase, one which I’ve found effective across all walks of life. “Worry about what you can control. Don’t let others shake you.”
Young adults are impressionable. Young adults are also easily agitated and swayed by their peers. But they are not alone in this.
I can still recall the moment I cursed at a student. I was a student teacher, which means I was just getting a taste of the negative and sour remarks that at times fly from the mouths of students. When your lesson doesn’t pop, the peanut gallery will pop off. After six years of teaching, I’m used to that. You can’t throw down Aces every day. Sometimes you need to play the 7’s and 8’s because it’s important to know how to play those cards, too. But as I stood there, in a rural Pennsylvania classroom, the baby-faced 22-year-old was unprepared for responses I couldn’t control.
In education, there are a lot of things teachers can’t control. We can’t control if a student had breakfast before coming to school. We can’t control how much sleep they got, or how stable or unstable their living situation is. But what we can control are our attitudes. What we can control is how well we know our content, and how comfortable we feel executing our ideas while engaging the audience.
Back to my foul mouth. On this fateful day, I was teaching poetry. This is something I had control of.
Knowing from the start that effective teaching draws on the lives of students, I decided to use the always-on-the-radio song, “Take Care” by Drake and Rihanna.
Our goal was to analyze end rhyme, or maybe it was alliteration; regardless, we focused on sound. And the subsequent sound I heard this young man make when I called on him caught me off guard. This was the loudest, most annoyed, “I’d rather be anywhere but here” Ugh I had ever heard. Now I was staring at him, and his eyes revealed, with the heaviest of rolls, that my request was nothing but an inconvenience on his quest to just kick it in class.
This quick one-two punch was just enough to set me off. “Yo, I know how to break down rhymes! This shits for YOU, not me!”
When anger is the fuel for vocabulary the lips become still once they’ve spewed their venom.
I felt the rush of red engulf my cheeks. I wanted to crawl under the desk as the students nervously giggled. They felt my words; they did not misconstrue my tone. A quick, honest apology leaped from my mouth. Then I made him answer the question.
That day I was unaware of Maya Angelou’s wise words. I was just beginning to learn that when you work with people, no matter the age, there is so much out of your control. But with that, you’ll always have the ability to control how you respond.
When people know what makes you tick, it’s easier to set you off. When I tell students “Worry about what you can control. Don’t let others shake you,” it’s basically a reminder to myself. I can’t control the cold front that brought 25 degrees on March 3rd, so I put a jacket on and turn on my seat warmers as I ride to school. That I can control. I can’t control if the Sixer’s blow a 4th quarter lead, but I can control the mindset I go to sleep with that night.
I’ll keep this in mind as I leave school this afternoon, light jacket in hand with this newfound spring weather, as I head to meet my brother and pops to catch the Sixer’s game at The Center.