It's that wisdom tooth. You know the one. The one on the left, farthest back. Only the second one I've ever had removed. But the first one was different; I was unconscious for the procedure. It was easy. This one should have been similar, but the sedative (or what I thought was to be a sedative) had zero effect on me. Zilch. And the procedure was, let's say, unpleasant.
The experience in the dentist's chair was not the favorite thing I've ever done in my life. As the doctor did whatever he needed to do to extract the wisdom tooth, my own hands were clenched into fists in front of my chest, and my legs contracted up in a concertedly uncomfortable position. It took all I had to keep from yelling out in pain and discomfort as the dentist told me, "You're doin' great."
But I started thinking, as I am inclined to do, that my denticular amputation has similarities with teaching. Yeah, I know what you're thinking...but it's not the hydrocodone speaking. Hear me out.
- One bad apple can ruin the whole basket. A week after my extraction, I still have a great deal of pain. My energy level has drained with a lack of sleep and the constant thoughts of pain as I continue to pop ibuprofen every four to six hours. It amazes me that such a small, localized area of my body can affect the rest so profoundly. And the same is true in the classroom. It is equally astounding how much one student or one action from a student can affect the rest of the classroom. When it happens, I see other students rolling their eyes in frustration. Some even clench their fists from time to time because of the "pain" that one student causes for the student body. They do a number of things in self defense. Just as I responded to the dentist's pressure, students may respond physically. Others contract and suppress the discomfort that is caused by one unruly student.
Combine these things with the seasonal allergies and sinus pressure, and we might imagine a classroom with multiple disruptive pupils. To put it lightly, I have been physically miserable for at least a week. After four days, I returned to the dentist's office for a review of my condition. I expressed to him my sensitivity and discomfort, to which he responded that everything looked to be healing nicely. He then broke me the news that it could take 21 days to completely heal and up to a full year before the bone fills in.
- Expecting to dread something is worse than the true results. As I thought about having this pain for 21 days, I wondered how miserable I would be after two more weeks of piercing pain in my jaw. I know it takes time to heal, but I felt like this was going to do me in. In the classroom, one disruptive student can be a "pain" to deal with in a classroom, if the teacher fails to see the student's potential to change and improve, the teacher can doom himself for the entire school year. For a fact, it drains the energy levels to the level of a teacher burning out or breaking down. That type of negativity can be avoided with a new mindset.
I'm thankful, in this occasion, that I have a student-teacher to fill in some of the gaps while my physical pain is radiated to the rest of my body. I would have missed more days if it weren't for some breaks from the classroom.
- In space, nobody can hear you scream. Consider the teacher who doesn't have a support system to fall back on. Consider the agony s/he may be experiencing, all because s/he doesn't want to leave the classroom to somebody else. Teachers tend to work in a vacuum. Of course, I often value my own vacuum, where I am free to do what I want to do, but at the same time, I need contact with people who can answer my questions, help me solve my struggles, and bring me back up from my lows.
Finally, I am thankful that the doctor told me my tooth hole (as Junie B. Jones calls it) will heal. We tend to be impatient when we are awaiting improvement. We do not want to wait it out.
- Patience is a virtue. We want that kid to behave better, to improve academically, but we are often unwilling to put in the time it takes to heal. It's not a magic show: those improvements don't always happen before your very eyes. And it doesn't happen without effort from both the teacher and the student. Again, it is a mindset. With my molar, I have already failed this test of my mindset; I have felt like this pain will never leave. Can you imagine a teacher convinced that nothing she does will ever have a positive effect on a child? I pray, first, that I can always look at students with the idea that s/he is hopeless, and second, that I can possess the patience to make it happen.
- No pain, no gain. Don't forget that effort piece. We hear all the time that there is no silver bullet or magic words that solve your educational woes as an educator. As cliché as those things may sound, they are true. As an educator with woes of my own, I understand that I need to keep an open mind, that I need to make mistakes, and that I need to find solutions rather than whine about the problems. My response to the pain I feel in my tooth hole is analogous to this. Yes, I have done my share of whining, but I have also expressed to people that the pain is a sign that I am still alive.
In my post-operative visit, the doctor said I was healing on schedule. Thanks, Doc, but it still hurts. Then he gave me a new directive: rinse often with salt water.
- Be the salt of the earth. I had already started rinsing with salt water, because I know that salt has antiseptic qualities. The doctor explained that using salt water would keep the "surgical" area cleaner and help it heal properly. Any individual in our class community can also be like the salt. Just as one student can negatively affect the dynamic of an entire classroom, a student or a teacher can influence the entire system for the better, as well. We, like the salt, can add flavor to the conversation and preserve the positive family atmosphere we strive to maintain. Any student - even one that seems unlikely - can be that kid who leads a classroom into greatness.
I think we all know that tooth extraction is really not the same thing as teaching fourth graders in Southwest Missouri. But then again...if I'm doing the same job as a dentist, shouldn't my paycheck be a little bit larger?