Croskey’s Corner: Forgiveness
When educators gather to discuss having babies, like the rest of the world, the conversation turns to prospective names. But, if you have been in education for a while, like me, you may have run into what I call the “name disqualification game.” Teacher A says, “I was considering naming my baby William (to throw abuse toward my name). But I had a student named Billy one time. He was a little…rascal. I battled all year with him. I wouldn’t name my kid “Billy” or “Liam” or “Will” if you promised to pay for all 4 years of my kid’s college!” In other words, past associations with the name “William” have disqualified it from the list of potential names. Too many bad memories.
Memory of student relationships. I call it history. Teachers develop a history with each one of their students. Just like the history of a country, those stories can include war, peace, exploring new frontiers, and accounts of building, of loss, and of rebuilding. A relationship between a teacher and a student starts with much promise and with high hopes. But the teaching-learning process runs into obstacles even with the most able student or the most skilled teacher. Sometimes the obstacles are learning difficulties, but often the issues are about low motivation to learn or demands outside of school that are more urgent and prevent the student from being ready to learn each day. Classroom management techniques or tricks to help get students more motivated can help. But in order for teachers to make tomorrow a better day than today was, behavior-wise, they need to start over each morning. Tomorrow cannot be another day. It has to be a new day.
I had a student once who had been emotionally abused by her dad. When she talked about the abuse, she felt that she needed to forgive and forget. She said, “Well, I guess I can forgive…but I will never forget.” The two parts are distinct, and maybe one has to happen before the other can. Those who have experienced grief after a loss say that no one ever stops hurting because of their loss of a loved one. Rather, they get used to the hurt, and it therefore becomes more tolerable. Not exactly a numbness. More of a callous forming. I think those two ideas, forgetting a hurt and a healed loss, are linked. The forgetting does not mean loss of memory. It means remembering with less hurt or pain. The healing of a loss does not mean good as new – it means a wound closes, forms a scar, and the person begins to be able to function in spite of the wound, to work around the scar and the diminished ability to move.
I guess maybe a conflict between a teacher and a student is like a mild death in their relationship. The loss on the student’s side may be one of trust, or disappointment that he or she has not met expectations. On the teacher’s side, the loss may be of the kind one gets when one fails at an important job or of being let down by one the teacher believed in. But as with any grief, there is an out. The only way through is through and the pain, while it will never go away (be forgotten), may be diminished. If one has faith in this process one can trust that a new day will be possible because the pain will lessen. The teacher, who has more experience than the student in these manners, can model a willingness to make each day a new, reborn chance to build a learning relationship.
You know the mantra for not giving up on kids: “I am disappointed in, or hate, what you did, not who you are.” Sounds good but very hard to live. I had a colleague, once, who could really start each day fresh. I think she did it successfully because she was so well grounded as a person. She forgave kids. Sure, she did not truly forget. But she let go of her disappointment, or maybe even hate – and loved that kid. People can use love to generate forgiveness. She did. A kid could call her a name or he could bring a weapon to school; a girl could bully other girls. It ended up not destroying the teacher-student relationship because my colleague never gave up on a kid. She forgave and she started over. That is inspirational, no? Forgiveness: it starts with us.
“If you want to test your memory, try to recall what you were worrying about one year ago today.”–E. Joseph Cossman, American entrepreneur and inventor