I started teaching in a new school on Monday of last week. Already, I feel quite comfortable there. I have begun to build a rapport with my students with a surprising amount of ease. They have been welcoming and kind. I have not yet felt like I was a substitute. By that I mean that I don’t feel like I am not being taken seriously or that I am being taken advantage of.

I got grunts and groans on day one when I said, “Today, we are going to go over our classroom contract.”

“We already did this with the other teacher. Why do we have to do this again?”

But that was the extent of “old teacher” talk. I am now the teacher and for the most part, I think they have accepted that.

Still being a new teacher, however, I am encountering new situations each day. From each situation arises a new thought and hopefully a lesson learned, sometimes more for me than for the students.

In the week and a half now, that I have been at my new school I have learned so much. Is it because it’s a smaller school, a more personal school, a more organized school? It is probably all of the above.

Following are some specific situations which caused me to reflect heavily on my actions as well as the students.

The situation: A very rowdy and disrespectful class of teenagers with a number of students who had to use the bathroom.

Joey (not his real name) had to go to the bathroom. The bathrooms are locked the first and last ten minutes of the period, which means that I have to remember who asked me, in what order they asked and at what time of the period they are allowed to go. This is all on top of writing the “do now” and “aim” on the board, explaining it, taking attendance, getting situated in a different classroom, handing back quizzes, and dealing with unfocused, loud and rowdy students.

Well in the midst of this all, I forgot that Joey had asked to use the bathroom first and I let someone else go instead. Joey was quite upset with me. After a little showdown in the middle of class Joey dropped it, but later, as he walked out of the classroom, he let me know that, “it’s called responsibilities,” and as a teacher, knowing who asked to go to the bathroom and in what order, is one of my responsibilities.

Regardless of whether it is or not, I felt that I had failed him as a teacher. I felt badly. Now, I have a bathroom sign in sheet.

Situation number two: In a recent conversation with a teacher friend of mine the subject of students as people came up. We discussed how sometimes teachers seem to forget that fact. It is almost as if a wall exists between us- students on one side and teachers on the other. It’s us versus them. Like robots, we expect them to come in each day, disciplined and ready to work. We’re taught to hide our emotions (when they may be negative) in the classroom, so why can’t they? I think the answer lies, partly, in that they are teenagers; they are hormonal and sensitive.

Is it possible that as teachers we sometimes forget to see students as people? That we only see them as obedient, good students or disobedient, bad students?

The situation: It was the start of my last class of the day, after my rowdy bathroom class. A colleague of mine was gathering her things from the previous class, my students were shuffling in and slowly beginning their independent reading. The late bell rang and a few seconds later Julie (not her real name) walked into the room.

I informed her she was late and asked why.

She responded with a rather snotty yeah and informed me it was simply because she was in the hall hanging out.

I let it slide. She has otherwise been a pleasant and on time student. My colleague who was still in the room, commented to me on her rudeness and then proceeded to engage this student in a discussion about her attitude. My student became very confrontational saying, “Not to be disrespectful, but I wasn’t even talking to you.”

She had a point.

Why was this teacher creating a situation where there should not be one, especially with a student that was not hers?

After she left, I went over and sat down next to Julie, a peace offering of sorts. I put myself on her level and I asked her, was everything all right?

She expressed her anger towards the other teacher for getting involved, saying, she was only a few seconds late and the entire situation was really none of my colleagues business. I agreed with my student, but explained how I felt. I expressed my disappointment in how she was sort of rude to me for no reason too. I explained why she needed to get to class on time and pointed out that I didn’t threaten to punish her or even reprimand her when she did come in late; I simply asked why.

After a few minutes contemplating these facts, Julie took it upon herself to come to my desk and apologize. It gave me butterflies in my stomach as she did. It was one of those moments were I felt I really connected with a student.

I didn’t teach her a new word, a new literary term or how to solve a quadratic equation. I hopefully gave her a lesson in civility.

She said, “Ms. I’m sorry that I was rude to you. You’re a nice teacher.”

Did I gain her respect because I treated her like a person, not like a student? I asked her what was wrong, and I gave her the chance to explain herself. I told her why she needed to be on time and how I felt when she was rude to me. In my eyes, I spoke with her and not to her. I’m finding that that can make a difference.

A simple, but important lesson for teacher and student.