Enter: Terrence and Teresa

Dear Terrence and Teresa,

When I said yesterday that I didn’t know whether I would meet you or not, I wasn’t joking. I can’t always tell immediately who you are. Today, I could. Boy, could I ever. In fact, there was just about a whole room of Terrences and Teresas. In almost every row, there was someone whose body language was screaming, “I have had no success in school, and I find it utterly useless.” Lots of kids saying this with signs, inattentive glazed faces, attempts to engage in side conversation – the usual behaviors that give you guys away.

Teresa, I saw you first. I had my suspicions when you were standing outside my classroom, loudly proclaiming that right now you have “John Doe” for class. A student who uses a teacher’s first name like that is saying a lot by doing so. That was the first clue. It’s hinting at a familiarity that a student will never have with a teacher, and it shows that you sometimes perhaps don’t really think before speaking.

There were a few other behaviors that gave you away, but I knew I’d pegged you when, after class, we were talking and I asked you, “How many referrals did you get last year?” You glanced up at the ceiling, obviously counting. We talked about those referrals, then I stopped you in your tracks by saying, “Did you notice what I asked? I didn’t ask you ‘Did you get any referrals last year?’ but rather ‘How many did you get?’ which is a totally, radically different question.” You looked at me confused. I do this trick every year with someone, and I’m never surprised at your confusion because I’ve come to understand that you sadly you don’t understand how clearly you communicate your past behavior with your present actions. When I offered to help you figure out how to rein in those compulsive behaviors, I wasn’t sure whether your affirmation was heartfelt. We’ll find out. But remember, I’m always willing to help.

Now you, Terrence, didn’t make your grand appearance until the end of the day, after I’d already had you in class. I have to admit: you’d sort of slipped through my radar in class. You didn’t when I saw you walking down the hall, virtually yelling about how much you hated this school and how much everyone is always on your back. Believe me, it was hard to miss you. I don’t often step in between a teacher and a student, but I could tell you needed some help, and I was sure I could get you in a calm place. And after a few moments, we were just talking.

“You look really frustrated,” I said.

“You look like you feel trapped between the demands of two teachers,” I said.

You said a lot, but you did so respectfully. And that gives me a lot of hope, and I hope it does the same for you as well. I’ll check in with you tomorrow, and I’ll try to get you ready for the inevitable, because it’s coming: I have a sense that we’ll develop a great relationship until I have to call you down in my class. It’s happened before, with other Terrences from other years. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, but until then, just remember the two simple ideas I shared with you:

  1. As unfair as it seems, adults can get by with talking to you in a tone of voice that you cannot use with them without getting into serious trouble. But don’t worry too much about that: all of us adults have been through it too. Just remember that’s how the rules work: as long as you’re not trying to play basketball by football rules, you’ll be fine.
  2. Count to three before you speak. As you’re counting, ask yourself some simple questions: “Do I really need to say this? Is this likely to make the teacher more upset or less?”

I’ve got a thousand and one other tips to help you out, Terrence, and you too, Teresa. We’ll get to those later this year. In the meantime, remember: breath, count, and don’t tackle any point guards.

Pleased to have met you,
Your New Teacher

Photo by Kevin Krejci