Things I Know 197 of 365: There are two kinds of angry in the classroom

To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.

– Steve Prefontaine

Recently, I’ve started reading Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.

I don’t know that I like Murakami, but I’m enjoying his book. I’m a social animal and he is not. He speaks highly of his comfort being away from people. While I enjoy my times of solitude, I feed on social interaction like some weird Buffy villain.

Something Murakami writes, with which I agree, is the following:

When I’m criticized unjustly (from my viewpoint at least), or when someone I’m sure will understand me doesn’t, I go running for a little longer than usual. By running longer, it’s like I can physically exhaust that portion of my discontent. It also makes me realize again how weak I am, how limited my abilities are. I become aware, physically, of these low points.

John Spencer has been writing a wonderful series of posts for new teachers – a collection of truths he wish he’d known or someone had told him before he entered the classroom.

He crowd sourced ideas online before embarking on this journey and the question of what I wish I’d known has been ruminating with me since he asked it.

My answer at the time and one of my answers now is embodied in Murakami’s words.

It was a doctrine of my classroom for years before Chris gave it words when we were in a discussion one day.

There is a difference between teacher angry and real angry. Teacher angry is what you let them see. It is the verbal kick in the butt that shows you care. It comes from a place of personal control akin to a parent telling a child they aren’t angry, they are just disappointed.

Real angry comes from the part of your brain the Vulcans work to control and repress. It is the moment when what you want to say is “For the fortieth time, stop interrupting, you little shit!”

These moments are exceedingly rare. They are born of exhaustion, confusion and periodic realizations that you are a last front between an ignorant and an informed citizenry. These are the intermittent terrors of the first through 30th years in the classroom.

The best teachers I have ever known never gave wind of their anger. I have taught alongside those for whom I would make a voracious case for canonization.

The good teachers know the line between teacher angry and real angry. They leave the room when the darker parts of their humanity well up within them in moments of great frustration.

The others see no line. Teacher angry and real angry are interchangeable in their classrooms. I’ve only seen a few of them, but they’ve tarnished the shine of what it means to be a teacher each time I’ve encountered them.

Each time I’ve encountered them, I’ve taken it as a sign that I must pick up the load they gave up carrying.

When I started running in college, I took none of this with me when I went out on the trail. I carried other injustices, other moments that showed me the world was not as beautiful as I imagine it to be. I would run, as Murakami writes, to “exhaust that portion of my discontent.”

Now that I’m entangled in the lives of the children I’ve served, I find myself carrying the injustices inflicted on them. It’s not always teachers. Mostly, though, it is one adult or another from their lives.

I will always do all I can to make up for those who have let them down. Still, when I run, I often find myself pushing myself because of what the world is not and what I would like it to be.

One thought on “Things I Know 197 of 365: There are two kinds of angry in the classroom

  1. “These moments are exceedingly rare. They are born of exhaustion, confusion and periodic realizations that you are a last front between an ignorant and an informed citizenry. These are the intermittent terrors of the first through 30th years in the classroom.” Brilliant.  I loved the Vulcan reference, too.  I'd love to say that I never crossed the line.  I'd love to say I always stepped away. However, I had times when I lost it.  A humble response afterward doesn't fix it, but it does help the students heal.  I know healing sounds a bit over-the-top, but that's what students need.  When someone they respect loses it, they're hurt.

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