Yesterday while working with Em (we are learning about American Indians) I had a moment of panic. I thought, I have no idea what I’m doing here. I don’t know how to teach this material. I don’t know that she understands any of this.
The more panicked I became, the more impatient I felt. The more impatient I felt the more in touch with my anger I was. When she randomly pointed to the wrong answer I said in a stern voice, “No!” Emma doesn’t respond well to “No!” I know this. But in that moment yesterday, I needed to take a break. In that moment, neither of us were going to be well served by pushing ahead with the material. It didn’t matter that I’d printed out more than a dozen photographs of various American Indians and the living structures different tribes used. It didn’t matter that I’d prepared material to discuss how some planted and became farmers, while others fished and still others hunted buffalo. None of it mattered because I was having feelings about how she should be able to learn it in the way I was teaching it, despite the fact that the way I was presenting the material was not the way I’ve been taught.
I was not, in that moment, able to practice patience and good teaching. In addition to this, my thinking was my own worst enemy. Whenever I begin to think in terms of fearful, projected thinking, and then ask questions such as, “what if she doesn’t understand this?” or “why didn’t she know the answer to that question?” I begin to feel impatient and then angry. In that moment I was not able to see that I was asking the wrong questions. In that moment I was not presuming competence in her ability to learn. I know she can learn the material. I have seen her learn all kinds of material. This is an example of expectations, coupled with impatience and not teaching the material in the best possible way.
It is during moments like this that I need to take a break. I know this. It seems that this would be a fairly easy thing to recognize and then implement by saying something like. “Oh, hey. I need to take a break. Let’s come back to this later.” Or some other equally non-judgmental comment, but this isn’t easy for me nor does it come naturally. I slide quickly into either self recrimination or fear and annoyance that she isn’t attending to the material (and me) in the way I would like. *Breathe* It’s okay. You’re okay. Just take a deep breath. It’s all fine. In moments such as this, it is vitally important that I take good care of myself so that I don’t do harm to those around me. I’ve learned this. I know this. This is fact.
So I am writing all of this out here, not as a public flogging or because I’m seeking absolution, but as a gentle reminder to myself that the way I treat myself is the way I treat others. It’s all practice. My specific practice includes patience, remaining calm in the face of fear and annoyance. Recognizing, without judgement, that I do not always behave the way I would ideally like. Admitting and accepting that I am flawed. And doing everything in my power to be the very best parent (and person) I can be. I can’t rewind the tape of yesterday’s session, but I can acknowledge what happened and that I do have the tools to present the material differently this afternoon.
This lesson of patience and calm when my emotions are running in the red is one I have not yet mastered, but am working toward one day at a time.