Responsibility for our Actions

It is natural for us to expect students to be responsible for their actions, but have you ever found yourself criticising a student’s work on one of your ‘bad days’? Admit it – we are not all saints, and sometimes the hint of sarcasm (or more than a hint) has crossed our lips when we have reached the end of our tether with some of our more demanding students!

It is understandable, given workloads and increasingly more complex student needs. But even when we are saints, there are occasions when we say things to our students that are incredibly inappropriate or mis-directed. How many times have we misconstrued a child’s bad behaviour as being deliberate, when in fact it has been a smoke shield they have used to cover up a problem they are embarrassed about?

I can still remember the day I taught as a reliever, and I had been asked to get the class of Year 8s to read an article aloud, in order around the room, one paragraph at a time.  “J” had it all worked out – when it was three away from his turn he started really annoying all the class until he was asked to leave and visit the principal. “Mission accomplished” as far as “J” was concerned, and off he went happily to see the principal.

He came back in and we all had a good time for the rest of the day – no more problems. I thought, “This principal must be g-o-o-d!!” (He was, but that was beside the point). I found out about two months later that “J” actually had a real problem with reading, and there was no way he was going to be made to read out loud by the reliever and embarrass himself in front of his peers!

“Fair enough, too!” I thought. I was horrified that I hadn’t been given that information as the reliever, or that a more appropriate task hadn’t been set. I went up to “J” the next time I saw him, at lunchtime, and apologised for what I considered to be an inappropriate action on my part as the teacher the day he had to be asked to leave the room. “J” and I got on well after that, as I took up a full-time position at the school (interestingly enough, for the very teacher I had relieved for in that first instance).

There are so many things we don’t know about our gifted students, that there are times when we are not treating them with the dignity they should be given. I am not saying they have got “respect for teachers” all together, all the time, but the change in behaviour often is needed from both parties to make school a successful, safe place for them to come.

How embarrassed have you felt when you have inadvertently expected a disabled person to do something, not knowing they are disabled? The same humility should be felt when we find out we have treated a gifted child inappropriately compared to their capabilities. In the words of Elton John … “Sorry seems to be the hardest word”.

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About Debbie Smith

New Zealand Educator interested in online education, giftedness, and other special needs in education.
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