I’m taking it personally.

In first grade, a kid from Cassoday (accidentally) tripped me as I hustled (perhaps more quickly than I needed to) from my desk to the trash can, empty chocolate milk carton in hand.

I was clad in a white, fringed and embellished Western-style shirt — my favorite — because it was picture day. I was excited, for three quite understandable reasons: 1) we’d just finished snack time; 2) it was nearly 3:30; and 3) I’d smiled my biggest grin ever — showcasing my complete and utter lack of front teeth. I knew Mom and Dad would be super-mega-ultra proud of that grin, so naturally, I was in a hurry.

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My face connected with the desk like a magnet had drawn the object and I together, and in moments, blood was gushing down my chipmunk cheeks and onto that remarkably white V-neck. Naturally, my first reaction was: Holy shit! That’s a lot of blood! (sans the expletive; I was only seven, guys) and then — I caught sight of  Cassoday-kid.

You know those movie clips in which a major character narrows his/her eyes and looks at another character/object/animal and the camera zooms in on that dirty look, so nobody misses it? Yeah. That happened.

It suddenly became clear to me, as I glowered (and hyperventilated/cried upon a stool in the boys’ bathroom, which was [mortifyingly] closest for my bleeding-like-a-stuck-pig self): Cassoday-kid had tripped me on purpose, duh. Any fool in his right mind could have seen I was in a hurry to get to the trash can. His foot was obviously intentionally placed in my direct path.

That all went down about 20 years ago, and I’m still half-certain I was tripped purposely. Of course, being the reasonable adult that I clearly am, I’ll pretend to lean more toward certainty that it was all an accident, caused primarily by my own haphazard hurrying; but deep down…that’s another story, folks. I took it personally. I used my woman-brain to twist this relatively innocent experience into a grudge-worthy personal attack.

In fact, over the past two decades, I’ve taken personal offense to comments, sideways glances, Tweets, jokes made by siblings, memes, blog posts, gum on my shoe . . . You name it, I’ve taken personal offense to it, as if the person saying/doing any given thing said/did the thing as a direct criticism of myself. Do I realize this is a completely irrational line of thinking? Absolutely. Is it something I continue to do? Most def.

As a third year teacher, I struggle most with this particular aspect of myself, which doesn’t lend itself well to my career. I work with a horde of angst-y teenagers who — more often than not — blame anyone other than themselves for shortcomings. The ability to connect actions (or lack thereof) to consequences is not something they’ve mastered quite yet. Examples:

  • It’s my fault my students did poorly on a test, despite the fact that they didn’t complete the reading, or failed to do their practice homework, or talked over me during class, or refused to participate in class discussions.
  • I’m mean because I sent students out to the hallway — because they didn’t complete the chapter we would be discussing in class.
  • I’m unfair because I gave students homework over a holiday break — because they didn’t finish any of their reading homework assignments, so we had to read over break in order to finish the book before the end of the semester.

Get the picture?

Deep down, I know that my students enjoy me; at least, most of them do. But at the surface level? I’m an insecure 26-year-old, floundering about the halls of a high school in memories of my own horrific high school experience, berating myself for every little detail my students find to criticize me about. I sometimes want to shout, “Hey! I hear you! I’m taking it personally!”

I’m aware that students’ brains are still developing. I know that their hormones are raging, and their emotions . . . terrifying. I know that they’re trying to figure out who they are, who they want to be, the careers they want to obtain, the next color they’ll dye their hair, why their parents don’t come to school events, where their next meals will come from, why their best friends are no longer talking to them, how math and letters can possibly exist in the same world . . . and yet . . .

I’ve got feelings, too.

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