She entered my classroom with her usual bright smile and clear eyes, but her energy was off. Asking how she was, she replied, “I’m okay. But today’s too much. I wish I were at home.” I could feel her tears welling up. She is one of my most enthusiastic students; she always asks how I am, participates, and responds to questions even though it is hard for her to articulate her thoughts. She is very sweet, naive, and wears her heart on her sleeve, so her response was out of the ordinary. I questioned her some more about the nature of her upset; she didn’t want to go to the counseling office, but I wanted to make sure that she was okay. Her openness to others and her gullibility make her an easy target for her more heartless peers. Was someone mean to her? Did something happen at home?
Finally the tears and story spilled. It wasn’t her peers, nor her parents. It was the previous period’s class lesson. As she explained to me what happened to upset her so much, I learned that this was a rather run-of-the-mill routine lesson– nothing controversial or degrading about it–and instead it was something that had to do with a phobia that made her uncomfortable. I would have sat through the lesson without blinking an eye, and her teacher had no idea its effect on her because she didn’t mention it. After discussing with her what she needs to do when she feels uncomfortable, I let her collect herself before coming back into class.
It was disheartening to hear to her story. Her teacher is sensitive to students’ needs and would be upset to know that a lesson had such an effect on her. I don’t know anyone who goes out of their way to make a student feel bad, and most teachers I know work hard to provide a safe environment for their students. Yet, upsets that fly under the radar still happen. As teachers, we cannot control everything, including how a student reacts to a lesson. This adds to the challenge of providing a safe environment, and as much as we try, we just never know our unintended effects on others.