Steve Heisler

Teacher Author Speaker


"Every single child wants to be successful. The problem is, if they can't be successful at being successful, they'll be successful at screwing up. Our job as educators is to change the latter to the former."    

- from the The Missing Link by Steve Heisler

Doing The Right Thing Even When You Don’t


“I was so frustrated,” she said, “having to say the same thing over and over, and it just came out. I was angry.”

This statement, which happened to be spoken by a teacher but could well have been spoken by anybody, was in explanation for a cross statement made to a student that was not, by a long shot, even close to the worst things ever said to a student or a child. In fact, if truth be told, it was not dissimilar from many statements heard in many classrooms, including my own, which are never acceptable but are as common as pencils.

She offered that she would have apologized, but that somehow the time just got away. She explained that she had no problem saying she was sorry and, if she had found the time, she would certainly have told the student that she shouldn’t have yelled and normally wouldn’t except that the student really ‘frustrated’ her and ‘made her’ lose her cool.

In the course of any relationship, but particularly with children, many sorts things are occasionally said in anger that ought not be said at all that do not quite rise to the level of unforgiveable.  Sometimes we are thoughtless, sometimes we are just momentarily mean, sometimes stuff that’s rattling around in our brains just slips out. It’s never ok and it’s never good but well, we are all flawed humans interacting with other flawed humans and as long as such statements are extremely rare, and are not delivered with a cruel intent to inflict damage, we have to find the right way to deal with not doing the right thing.

When you do something ‘wrong’ just apologize. And don’t just put it on the agenda, do it as soon as possible. If it was said or done in public, apologize in public too. Make it sincere, genuinely try to do better but please: don’t blame the victim. You screwed up because you screwed up, regardless of what the child did. You weren’t backed into a corner and the reaction you chose wasn’t your only choice (which is exactly what most teachers would say to a kid claiming he or she was forced by the other kid to act as he or she did).

Look, try as we might we will never prefect ourselves but while we can never hope for perfection, we can always strive to be our better selves. By striving to be our better selves, we are also teaching, by our actions, how our students and our children can learn to be their better selves as well. Yes, doing the right thing all the time is incredibly important but since we cannot hope to always do the right thing, maybe learning to make things right might be the important right thing of all.