One time I was walking down the hallway and overheard some students, who didn’t know I was there, talking. I heard one say, “I love Mr. Muir’s class.” That naturally put a smile on my face.
But then one of the kids said, “Ugh, I hate that guy!”
It stopped me in my tracks. This kid said he hates me. I mean, this student was one of my more difficult students. He was constantly interrupting me, often very disrespectful to me and his classmates, and as a result, he got in trouble a lot in my room. Usually it was just some stern heart-to-hearts in the hallway, but also calls home to parents and even trips to the front office (which is not something I do very often).
Now I assumed this kid didn’t like detentions or not being allowed to walk all over his teacher, but I didn’t think he hated me. To be honest, it stung. You get into this work because you want to change lives and have an impact on every kid you encounter. You want to be that person for kids that the great teachers of your past were for you. Or you want to be that great teacher for kids who you didn’t have. And I think that’s part of why it hurt when I heard a student declare openly in the hallway that he hates me. It was a reminder that I can’t be all things to all students.
Now I consciously knew that. Mentor teachers and administrators have told me that before. But to be honest, at a subconscious level, it’s hard for me, and I think a lot of us, to accept we can’t have the desired effect on every student. I want all of my students to love my class. I want them to be challenged, and enthusiastic, and grow, and feel like I am someone in their story who is helping them move forward and get better.
And it is hard to do that if a kid hates you.
Now, does that kid actually hate his teacher? Probably not. I think that specific student hates being held accountable. And I think sometimes teachers bear the brunt of that. One of our jobs is to help shape our students into the kind of people we want in this world. That can take hard work and discipline, and is not always what our students want to do. It can be difficult to help them understand that sometimes.
Now, does that kid actually hate his teacher? Probably not.
One time in middle school, I plagiarised my mom’s signature so she wouldn’t find out I got in trouble in one of my classes. Well guess what? Somehow my teacher, who was one of my favorites, found out that it wasn’t actually my mom’s signature. He confronted me about it, and I said I was sorry and I plead with him to not tell my mother.
And guess what he did? He called my mom anyway. As I sat grounded for the next month, I was so angry with this teacher. I felt betrayed. I couldn’t believe he didn’t give me one more chance. I loathed having to sit in his class for a while. Dare I say, I even hated him.
But you know what? I learned a lesson about honesty from this experience. I saw that my actions have consequences. I also remember how this teacher, despite how cold I’d become to him since he turned me in, kept including me in class, greeting me every day me at the door, and made sure I felt safe and welcome in his classroom. He must’ve had this wisdom about teaching that sometimes the medicine that doesn’t taste very good is often the best thing for you. And over time as a student, I realized he actually had my best interest at heart the whole time.
Does that mean the kid who told all his friends in the hallway how he hates me will come to that realization? I don’t know. I think that’s out of my hands. But what is within my control is still being kind to that student. And staying committed to helping him become a smarter, more creative, hard working, and respectful person. That means staying consistent, and finding new ways to connect with him and engage him in my class.
It also means continuing to learn to not take it personal. One of my primary goals as a teacher is not for students to love me, but to love learning. And I think that’s what we should strive for. Even if it means our egos take a hit every now and then.