Shame in More Than One Way by Melissa Rosella

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I was sitting in the library. I’d been here before.  This was my 9th year. It would be my last year. My principal was about to have our 2nd grade team present our students test scores to the entire STAFF. We were about to reveal how our students did on the quarterly math & reading assessments, complete with color coordinated bar graphs & percentages & teacher’s names. I was scared shitless.

I don’t think I’ve ever been the one at the top, ever.  I have the intermediate class based on language ability. My neighbor takes the kids that have the lowest language ability. My other neighbor has the gifted children. My students come to me from where they are and I do my best to meet them where they are by  taking them to new heights by loving them, first, & educating them with best & creative & hands-on teaching practices.

I’ve sat here, in this library, 4 times a year for the last 8 years. It never ever gets easier for me. I always start sweating because the document camera and that giant screen is about to reveal how 2nd grade did, collectively and then individually. I’m certain I’m going to blame myself for not making enough growth. The same things happens every single time, I walk out and go back to my classroom and I cry. I cry for my sweet-hearted, loving, caring, hard-working, more than good enough students that have pushed themselves so hard to do their  best. I cry because I care about each and every student as if they were my very own. I dream about them and think about them too often.

My students are full-bodied & whole-hearted feeling children, not mechanical robots. They have feelings and they need to be heard and seen and loved and embraced. So after this meeting, I’ll have another meeting, a one on one, with my principal and she will go over my class’s results. I will have to explain why I didn’t do as well as my neighboring teacher, my dear friend. She’ll ask why I didn’t do as well as so and so. She’ll point out the bar graph, again. I’ll have to come up with a slew of explanations & none of them will include that I didn’t care enough or work hard enough or stay late enough or prepare enough or push myself hard enough or push my kids hard enough. I’ll have to say I’ll try harder next time and I’ll have to go and observe my fellow teachers, my friends, to learn what they are doing better than I am, to push myself to help my students get better scores the next go round. I’ll have to take notes and apply new strategies and pull small groups and reteach concepts and spend time teaching to the God damn test, instead of making art and using manipulatives and doing the very things that brought me into this field in the first place.

Shame is not feeling good enough. Shame is being compared to my neighboring teachers, my friends, for whom have a whole group of unique students that vary in their parental involvement at home, their English reading & speaking ability, their individual personality, and unique family situations. I did my best, but my fucking best never feels good enough. I’ll come home and cry and Brian will tell me I am a damn good teacher for putting in my heart and soul, but that doesn’t cut it. Even though my administration and fellow 2nd grade team will tell me I am damn good teacher, I will not completely believe them. I will foolishly believe I am not enough for my beloved Spanish-speaking students that work so damn hard. Nevermind that I don’t have an aide, that I have 30 or more kids, that my students are dealing with more than they ever should: drugs, divorce, & too small of a home with far too many people, parents working 3 or more jobs to make ends meet, and more.

Shame is debilitating. Comparison is the thief of joy and never ever would we put up color coordinating  bar graphs, in front of our beloved students, and compare them with one another. That would not be best teaching practices, however we do this to our faculty. It’s not fair and it is ludicrous.

I had to leave the profession, after almost 10 years and earning a master’s degree. I couldn’t do it anymore. It’s too hard and my plate was too full and if they added one more single thing to my plate, it was going to bust and I was going to fall apart.

They will tell us that we get together & compare our red, green, and yellow pie charts to help motivate us to do better  next time & to push harder. I will internalize their scores. I will translate their lack of adequate growth (1 year or more) as I didn’t do enough, stay late enough, work hard enough, research enough, or prepare my students enough. My mind will go there. & my mind will be wrong.

After 9 years in the classroom on the westside, I resigned because my backbone was no longer strong enough to carry the weight of teaching anymore. It was wearing on my soul and taking a toll on my happiness. Not a single day goes by that I don’t think about those children. I didn’t leave because of them. I left because I got tired of thinking my best was not good enough. I didn’t appreciate being compared against my beloved colleagues. I was burned out and exhausted.

Adults and children feel shame. Yesterday, I witnessed a little boy struggling to be a good example as the line leader. I heard a teacher’s aide say, “YOU ARE NOT A VERY GOOD LINE LEADER.” I watched the boy’s head drop & I could see shame wash over  his face.

How would the boy have reacted had she said this instead?:

“I see that you are having trouble with your job as line leader. I know you know how to be an excellent leader. Can you show me what it looks like to be first in line? Can you make a different choice? Nice! I knew you could do it!” (encouraging & helpful)

Read these and notice the difference:

“Mel, you ARE a mess.” (shame)

“Mel, you MADE a mess.” (guilt)

“Hope, you ARE bad.” (shame)

“Hope you MADE a poor choice.” (guilt)

Shame is, “I AM A MISTAKE.” Shame is unhealthy. Guilt is, “I MADE A MISTAKE.” Guilt is healthy.

“You ALWAYS talk back.” (shame)

“That was not very nice, can you say that again in a kinder way, please?” (guilt)

“You SHOULD be more like Sally. She keeps her room clean ALL the time.” (shame)

“You NEVER clean your room.” (shame)

“How can I help you keep your room clean?” (helpful)

“You are ALWAYS late.” (shame)

“Let’s set a timer to help you be on time.” (helpful)

Was walking my kids from the park to get frozen yogurt. I saw a little bubbly boy in the backseat of a truck & he was waving & smiling at us. We returned the friendliness. We made our way closer to our destination, when all of a sudden, from the same truck, I heard a man inside & saw him facing the backseat as he shouted, “What the fuck are you looking at mother fucker?!?!?!” (shame)

My heart wept for that poor innocent little boy in the backseat. I can imagine shame washing over him & I wonder what he must have been telling himself. Our kids internalize our anger, our tone, & our intentions as their own and they blame themselves and they carry it, forever.

He was clearly angry, but that anger was being misdirected & thrown at that smiley bubbly little boy. It broke my whole heart & I found myself rushing my kids to ZO YO because that nasty & negative energy was so strong & so ugly. I wanted to run over & rescue that little boy from his car seat & claim him as my very own. Wanted to embrace him & take away his shame & sadness with a magic wand and buy him frozen yogurt. That poor boy. That poor little boy.

As mothers and fathers, we write on the slate of who our children become by using hurtful or healing words, by speaking from a place of love and acceptance, or a place of hate and abandonment. Words are powerful and they can hurt OR heal. We choose & our kids minds are shaped by our words and our actions and our intentions and our tone. & if we make them deal with our adult drama bullshit, they will carry it & internalize it & tell themselves they are bad & that our sadness, disappointment, & anger is directly their fault & that they are th cause. & that thinking will equate them believing they are not good enough and are broken or faltered. It will affect them for the rest of their lives.

Please be  mindful of:

1. your tone
2. your words
3. your intentions
4. your body language

5. your eye contact & facial expressions

We will mess up. We will make lots & lots of mistakes. But we have the ability to start again & reset & try again. We admit our poor choices & we do it better the next time & the next time & the next time.

Be sure your kids know no matter what, in the midst of their worst & most horrible tantrums,  their awfullest mistakes, & their poorest choices, that you love them, unconditionally.

Be certain that your degree of love for them is not affected by the mistakes or choices they make. Be sure your children know that your love is infinite & forever & unwavering no matter what.

Hope freaked out the other day. I wouldn’t let her wear her badass black combat boots to the park. She punched me in the tummy because she wanted to wear her boots. & I walked away to catch my breath & to take a mommy timeout. Afterwards, Hope looked at me & said she was sorry & she searched my face for acceptance after a really poor choice. Could see her mind thinking, “Do you still love me? Do you still see me? Are you going to forgive me?”

I scooped her up & thanked her for her apology (it’s a huge deal that she noticed her mistake and apologized right away) & I looked her dead in the eye and told her I loved her.  I freaking let her wear those stinky combat boots to the park. I asked myself why I was forcing her to wear her tennis shoes. I concluded that it truly did not matter what shoes she chose to wear! Gotta pick your battles & clothing & shoes ain’t a battle I care to pay too much attention to. She wore the freaking boots and it all worked out just fine.

1. Be mindful & aware

2. Be careful with your words

3. Be gentle & kind


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