Choosing Your Battles

I have great empathy for teacher who “float” throughout their teaching day. Been there. Done that. I floated the first year I taught – actually I trudged between two buildings and five classrooms. Two periods a day, I shared a room with a teacher who was really likable and fun…outside of her classroom.

The inside of her classroom was a different story. She was the teacher who would not allow backpacks in her room, gave detention for a student’s feet being in the aisle, reset her rows at the end of each class, and was intolerant of the least disruption of the routine. All blanks had to be filled in, all of your I’s dotted and T’s crossed, and the mimeographed worksheets had to be submitted exactly on time and in exactly the correct format. I dared not come into her classroom two seconds early, and I made sure to be out of her room almost before the students. Those were the battles she chose to fight, and she fought them well. I respected her boundaries, as did the students.

When I finally won the lottery for an open room, I too, chose my battles. My students were responsible for moving their desks into whatever configuration the lesson of the day required. My room was rearranged several times a day. Backpacks were allowed but had to stay out of the way. And because of the standardized testing at the end of the year, my students worked their tail ends off every day. My biggest battle was ensuring that every student had improved that year. Laziness, poor effort, and not turning in assignments were not tolerated. Those were my battles, and I fought them every day.

And years later, I ran into one of my former students at the mall. She had classes taught by me and the other teacher. And in our conversation, she said how much she had appreciated both of us.

What? I really liked her, but she fought me tooth and nail some days.

She went on to explain that her life was missing something that between the two of us, we had managed to teach her. From us, she had learned the self-discipline that she needed to finish high school. We would not accept less than her best, and she learned she was worth giving her best…as well as her son who she was raising while finishing high school. She said that she did not always like the lesson at that exact moment, but over time, she had realized exactly what both of us had taught her. She was grateful.

That was one of those moments that made fighting the battles completely worth it. 

You see, as teachers, we all choose the battles that are most important to us, and those that we feel will benefit our students the most. One battle is not more important than another, since they all come together to benefit the entire student. Even the ones who will fight tooth and nail because they don’t like the lessons at that moment in time.

Eventually, they get it. And if we get lucky, they get to tell us about it.