Chris Emdin, Associate Director of the Institute for Urban and Minority Education, tells the story of a time when he let ego affect his response to a student. Here Chris encourages educators to lead from a place of understanding.
I vividly remember my first year of teaching. I was a middle school teacher. And I remember having a whole bunch of awful days. It’s like one of my favorite stories.
One day a student comes in the class like 25 minutes late on the one day I thought was my best day, right? And he walks in, he’s late, all the students are working, my final good day, and he starts saying hi to everyone. Like, what up? How you guys doing? Like in the middle of my one good day.
And so I go to respond to him, I’m like, bro, like don’t you see that everyone’s paying attention? Like could you, like, stop? And he’s like, what? I just got in here. And that drove me crazy, right? Because I’m like, well, first of all, they’re working and you came in and you’re interrupting. And it was this whole big moment happened.
And I’ll bypass some of the details in the story, but I remember was I allowed my anger and frustration with him interrupting what I thought was good teaching to shape my relationship with him. And he was able to be strong enough and powerful enough to come to me later on and tell me how he was hurt by that. And I had to really quickly learn that I had to get my emotions out of the way and I had to de-escalate.
And out of that experience, I sort of realizing like, the only emotion that classrooms need is love. And what was happening as anger for me was ego. And my best teaching moment came that year from him being vulnerable enough to share with me how he felt, and that taught me to always lead with my vulnerability. Right? I could have said, everyone’s working, you’re making me a little frustrated. I didn’t have to be angry and teach from that point.
And it’s a simple story, but I think it’s a story that teachers need to hear. That sometimes your humanity forces you to respond from a place of ego, and once you move as a teacher from a place of ego, you never get to the place of learning. And I can imagine if he never came to me, that would have been how I saw him the whole academic year. And that could have changed his whole life.