I went and let them see me cry.
I broke the cardinal rule of teaching.
I can’t tell you how many times I heard that when I first began teaching.
“Don’t ever let them see you cry.”
There were days where I had to dart out of the classroom, eyes brimming, just to keep those tears from falling in front of my students. Returning to the room red-faced and flustered was still better than actually letting them witness me cry.
I even found it in a book called 100 Ideas for Surviving your First Year in Teaching by Laura-Jane Fisher. She says,
“It happens to all of us I’m sure. The important thing is to not let your pupils see it. Although this can be very hard, it’s even harder to come back from breaking down in front of a class.”
It seems as if this was passed on to her, too, because she recounts the first time it happened to her by saying,
“The first thing one of the teachers in there said to me was, ‘Did any of them see you?’ Never let them see you upset, they don’t deserve the satisfaction. So whatever you have to do in from of the pupils keep a solid face and, if you must let it all out, do so after the class has left.”
I can’t begin to recount how many times I have cried in a school where I was the teacher. Really, the number is outrageously large. Many of those times were in the first 2 years of my career, but definitely not all of them.
The difference between crying then and crying now is simple.
Then, I cried because of them. Now, I cry for them.
I cried in front of my students today. I knew it was going to happen, and I let it. Not a big, ugly, you-just-destroyed my hopes and dreams cry. Just a small and frustrated, disappointed, hurting cry. Enough to redden my cheeks and force me to look up to keep from letting the tears spill. That was all. But you should have seen the looks on my students’ faces. Some smiled, thinking it was funny that the teacher cried. Others were totally perplexed, obviously not familiar with seeing this particular emotion on their teacher.
I didn’t cry because of any of the students. I cried for one. I cried because he had made a mistake and was now facing the consequences. My heart aches for him. I cried because I was frustrated that he made another bad choice and I knew far greater than he did how much that choice is going to change his life. I cried because he knows better, but doesn’t do better. I cried because I couldn’t believe he was in this situation. And I think, most of all, I cried because he did not want me to know what he had done, because he knew that it would make me upset.
So when I found out what was going on, I couldn’t help but cry. Yes, with kids in the room, and yes, they saw me. One particularly sweet girl asked, “Coach K, why are you crying?”
My response was, “When I say I care, I’m really not joking.” It wasn’t eloquent or witty or even really sweet. But that’s all I could say. I couldn’t explain the situation to her, and she doesn’t need to know. She doesn’t need to know how her teachers spend their time outside of school worrying about the choices their students make and how even the smallest of choices can change their lives for the better or worse. She doesn’t need to know that when we say ‘my kids’ that we think of them that way. She doesn’t need to know the depth of our care and concern. That isn’t her place to concern herself with heavy things like that.
But, today, it wasn’t my place to hide it, either.