…..but there is crying in writing.
Worst of all is when it’s not YOU crying, but someone else…a student…because of you, their teacher.
It certainly happens. Especially when students have been told their whole lives how smart, how bright, how unique, how special they are. Their personal expectations and the expectations of them from those around them are often so high that getting knocked from the pedestal means there’s a long way to fall.
And sometimes it doesn’t take much to shake that pedestal.
I am currently tutoring a 12 year old boy. Well read, well spoken, and entering 7th grade in the fall. Going over his first essay with him, I was careful to point out where he needed to improve for his final draft. After a few minutes of me blindly talking about “analyze more here; reword this sentence”, I looked up to see his big eyes full of tears. I looked away immediately, thinking to save him some face. Any age is tricky; the verge of puberty is trickier. I asked him casually if he needed a bathroom break and he snapped, “No.” Afterward, he stood in the corner of the living room and read over every red pen mark I had made while wiping his eyes with his sleeve.
I felt awful. Objectively, maybe I had done nothing wrong. But all I kept thinking was I had made a young boy cry.
I’ve had both young men and women tear up in my office; full out crying is more rare but has happened. I always keep a box of tissues on my desk. I like having a window next to my desk so that I can pretend to be interested in something outside while my students hurriedly wipe away tears. Sometimes they cry because of difficult things going on at home or with friends or lovers. Most of the time they cry because of grades.
A “poor grade” can be relative; a B- earned by a student who had a 4.9 GPA in high school feels like a slap in the face. I would love if the entire grading system was rescheduled; I’m not sure when we started saying “75% is a C, and a C is basically a failure”, but that’s certainly how my students treat C grades. I wish most students put in 75% effort.
And sometimes a poor grade is not relative…sometimes it’s due wage, well earned. It’s why I try to keep that distance from my students; friendly, but not friends. Because they feel so betrayed when they think you’re friends and then you hit them with a failing grade. No matter if it’s a reflection of their own effort, they still think the teacher made a choice to fail them. Sigh.
Watching my 12 year old ward cry was a bitter moment for me; I certainly felt like I had failed him somehow. As a teacher, I want to be both mentor and support; I want to challenge and at the same time fix all of their problems. But he took a deep breath, rejoined me at the table, and asked for the next writing assignment. Reminding me that students are more resilient than the pedestals we place them on.