when kids are mean…

A student once told me I have the patience of Job.

Now, granted, he couldn’t see the pressure building in my brain as I continued to remind myself to stay calm, stay calm, stay calm.

But I tend to have a lot of grace in the classroom – grace for mistakes (because I make them, too), grace for attitude (because I’m learning it’s not always about me), grace for chaos (because sometimes the best learning is loud).

One thing I don’t have much grace for?





When I was in 7th grade, there was this boy I liked. When things didn’t work out between us (like almost all attempted middle school relationships), he and another friend decided to egg my house with – not just eggs, mind you – but eggs already growing baby chicken skeletons.

I came home to find my driveway littered with baby chicken corpses.


That time of life is tough. Middle schoolish time is when everyone is figuring out who they are and what’s happening in their bodies. There are insecurities flying around like mosquitos in a swamp. So kids generally take those insecurities and fling them at each other, hoping that mean-ness will provide the mosquito netting they need to survive.

Recently, a former student reached out to me, saying there was something he had to “get off his chest.” I immediately panicked, wondering what might have happened that I didn’t realize – I mean, it was a long time ago.

I found out that the entire time I knew him, some of my students had been bullying him. Teasing him for his different-ness, his (in his words) awkward social skills, his unique sense of being.

All under my nose.

How did I miss it? How did I NOT see that he was in pain, that some of my own kids were mocking WHO HE WAS instead of embracing that who-ness?

I tried to conjure up memories of those moments, pinpoint what I could have done, what action I could have taken.


I couldn’t pull up a time, place, or specific moment when I remembered seeing it happen. It was totally (I hope) out of my control.

Teachers should have to take an oath. Just like doctors do:

Hip·po·crat·ic oath


an oath stating the obligations and proper conduct of doctors, formerly taken by those beginning medical practice.

Every day I want to be aware. Awareness is an obligation. It is the proper conduct of an educator.

I don’t teach a subject, I teach a human being. And human beings have more going on than what’s in the textbook, on the test, or in the essay.

I want to make every effort to see past the mask and into the soul – what’s really going on inside?

I want to fight the mean-ness with love, combat the insecurities with reminders of worth, and destroy hate with understanding.

I know that I wasn’t trying to be a bystander in the case of that kid. But it was a good reminder to LOOK at what’s really happening in and out of my classroom.

Kids can be mean, yes. But they also have the capacity to be really, really amazing. I’ve seen it. And I want to stretch that capacity, open up opportunities to grow that capacity, and encourage them when I see it.

I meant that about the Hippocratic Oath. I can picture it now – hundreds of teachers standing in a line, hands raised, reciting the words that they swear to uphold as educators.

So I took the doctor one and replaced a few words to make it work for the teacher-y types.

I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:…

  • I will respect the safety of those students in whose lives I invest and gladly share the knowledge as is mine with those in my classroom.
  • I will apply, for the benefit of the student, all measures which are required to ensure the safety of my classroom, avoiding the trap of pride and fear.
  • I will remember that there is an art to teaching and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh standardized testing or classroom grades.
  • I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a student’s success.
  • I will remember that I do not teach a subject,  but a human being whose education may be affected by the person’s family and economic situation.
  • I will prevent academic failure whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to giving up.
  • I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those who do well in school as well as those who struggle.
  • If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of educating those who sit in my classroom.


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