“Confessions of an Educator” columnist Chris Margolin reflects on the man in the mirror and asks: are you being true to yourself and those around you?
When I was a little kid, I used to bring home dead birds or injured birds and try my best to fix them or bring them back to life. Eventually, these dead or injured birds turned into the friends I chose or the girlfriends I chose. I didn’t seek them out, but rather turned to them. I was a collector of things, broken and winged, but I loved them anyway.
I am relationship-first. I want to make sure everyone can find their best self and understand that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel—however subtle it may be. As a teacher, I wanted students to believe that what they were doing mattered to them and made a difference in their lives. I implored them to see each character they read as a reflection of themselves, because we are not spectators when we read. Each character or person we meet is a piece of us, in some portion of our lives, and we can learn about our world through theirs. I wanted them to learn about themselves; but frankly, I never took the time to learn about myself.
I’m really good at analyzing my own issues, but it’s as a spectator and not always as a participant. I don’t pay attention to the ills I need to change about my approach to situations—in the classroom, in the office, and in life. This needs to change. I look back on my final few years in the classroom and I realize more and more that, while I felt like a successful teacher and my students (even those who weren’t always on their A game or their D game) were seemingly successful as well, I didn’t pay attention to my own feelings and got lost in this sort of rote memory existence. It wasn’t fair to my students, much like it wasn’t fair to anyone else.
In my final year as a Creative Writing teacher, a student I truly respected told me, “You’ve done a disservice to the students in the class, because it’s obvious your heart isn’t in it.” It was the wake-up call I needed and I was able to efficiently hand the reins over to a teacher who was as excited as I was when I first took over the program, and I began my transition out of the classroom. I had just reached a point where, to me, the work was getting done and the students were excited about it and most of them were feeling better about themselves, but I hadn’t paid any attention to myself. And because of that, I didn’t notice how unhappy I’d been in my role in the classroom as well as outside of the classroom.
What I can’t do, however, is make any excuses for it. I had cheated myself, my students, and others in my life out of the person and the teacher I was when I first started this crazy journey. I used to think of certain students and people as part of a Dead Bird Collection who needed to be fixed. I realize now that I’m the Dead Bird. Others don’t need to be fixed; they just need to be treated as people. And some of those people should never question your level of love and respect. But it’s hard to truly love and respect people, if you can’t always find it in yourself.
While it is way easier said than done, take a moment, breathe, understand who you are versus who you want to be and pay attention to how you treat those around you—students, colleagues, friends, family, and the person you see in the mirror.