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We decided we should talk about embarrassment after a conversation I had with another teacher on Twitter.
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So back to Twitter … a teacher shared a story about walking into a cement pole in front of her senior leadership class, and she was kind of mortified to go talk in front of them the next day. And we thought, I’ve definitely heard this topic enough through the years that I think it’s worth spending some time on.
It’s definitely embarrassing. We all have those mortifying moments. The question is … what do we do with them? Do we cringe and hide and hope they don’t mention it again? Do we yell at them to stop laughing? What actually works and why are we embarrassed in the first place?
Aren’t we embarrassed because we care about what they think about us? Which is fine, but I think where we get embarrassed is when we can’t control the narrative we’re trying to create about ourselves. Especially in this day when everything we post online is so manicured and we can create this profile of who we dream to be, but embarrassing moments totally don’t let us do that in real life.
Yeah, it’s really about classroom management, when you get down to it. What kind of persona are we trying to make the students think we’re like? It’s kind of fake. I know I used to think I had to craft this persona so I could command my teacher authority and they would take me seriously. I’ve learned students are so much more savvy than that. And they’re also so much more forgiving … but only when we break down those fake authority walls and engage in actual relationship.
So back to the example of walking into the cement pole? How could a teacher respond without feeling embarrassed?
Let’s start by possibly changing our assumptions about embarrassment. We need to start seeing embarrassment as a choice. If we stop worrying about the reputation we want people to have about us, we won’t have to get embarrassed anymore.
So how could that teacher respond? Some ideas …
- The next day, walk into the pole again, then wink … point at them … and smile.
- Laugh with them at yourself.
- Ask them to share moments they’ve walked into something.
- Exaggerate it and say you can’t believe you just did that.
- Ask them to check your forehead for a red mark.
- Jokingly ask a couple of them to be on guard in case you start losing your balance or stutt-utt-uttering.
What if “professional teacher” meant doing everything possible to engage students so you earn classroom rapporte so you can effectively teach them when you start the actual content? We’ve gotta stop taking ourselves so seriously when we don’t need to take ourselves seriously. We’ve gotta stop being fake. It adds so much to our classroom management when we’re teaching the real stuff.
Yeah, students listen to our real stuff when they see us let there be serious and non-serious stuff. We gotta lighten up. What’s an example of you handling embarrassment in your classroom?
Lisa: I graduated young, so I was a young substitute teacher. I was long-term subbing in a 5th grade class. We had an assembly, and at this school they had the 5th graders sit on the lunch tables. I was sitting next to the students at the end of a table when a parent volunteer was trying to find me. I didn't know she was trying to find me until she finally spotted me. She walked up and said something about how I looked so young she thought I was a student. I was somewhat complimented that I looked young but also coping with all the insecurities of being a young, new teacher at a high-pressure school which made me embarrassed that the parent said that in front of students. In all reality though, I was young. I chose to never disclose my age to students or parents and my line that I often used when parents asked about my age was, "Oh, you know, that Oil of Olay does wonders!"
Jonathan: I tripped a lot … I’m not sure why. I always recovered, stood tall, took a bow, and asked for applause. They laughed at me and gave applause, then we moved on. They loved it.
I remember one time I came back from the bathroom after the sink had splattered on my pants. A middle school student mentioned it, and I just jokingly admitted that I peed my pants. He laughed, then it ended up no big deal.
Lisa: With my 1st and 2nd graders, there would inevitably be the time when I was working in some classroom center and a student would say, "Mrs. Stephens, your button on your shirt is undone [or your zipper is down]." Since the kids were younger, I used it as a chance to teach them polite ways to say it or compliment them if they said it kindly. I'd laugh and say that can make a person feel embarrassed but I'm so grateful they told me to save me from more embarrassment.
Jonathan: Many times over the years, I messed up something I wrote on the board, or stapled assignments together wrong, or spelled something wrong in my assignments, or had something stuck in my teeth, or anything embarrassing.
Oh gosh, I just remembered perhaps my best embarrassing moment as a teacher. I was doing a quick impromptu lesson on scheduling because our students are always claiming they forgot and I would always correct them and say “they chose to forget because they didn’t choose to remember.” So I had this great idea to project my Google calendar up on the screen so I could show them how I choose to remember all the things in my day. It was going great until one student in the back raises his hand and asks, “What’s sexy time? It’s there on Wednesday night.”
Shout out to Flight of the Conchords and their song “Business Time” … Just click that screenshot there >>>
Now, in this moment of mortification I had a choice … be embarrassed, get mad, try to hide, anything … and I chose to say with sort of a winky face, “You’ll understand when you get married. I told you I choose to remember everything I want to remember.” They of course got all red-faced, and it was hilarious, and I didn’t get in trouble or anything. Accidents happen, embarrassments happen, so we’re the ones who get to control the laughter in our environment. It’s so necessary.
So ultimately, we need to ask ourselves why we’re being embarrassed? What did the situation trigger? Were they straight-up disrespectful? Is there a time we really should be embarrassed?
The way I see it, after we’ve already stopped worrying about our persona, the only time we need to be embarrassed is when we suck. And actually, no, I take that back … we don’t have to be embarrassed when we suck … we have to be embarrassed when we didn’t prepare and then we sucked. If we prepared our best and still did a terrible job, I don’t think we need to be embarrassed by that. Maybe we just aren’t cut out for it, and we don’t have to be embarrassed by that. Only by not putting in the work. That’s my thought on that. Stop worrying about persona, get real, and put in the hard work = not having to ever survive embarrassment again.
So embarrassment . . . Jonathan just shared about business time on our Google Calendar for more people to know about. That makes me want to explain things to protect the image of our marriage, but we’ll just keep it at that. Is it Wednesday?
Conversation of the Day: So … What is an embarrassing teacher moment you’ve had?
Hop on over to watch the video and share your thoughts in the conversation.