• Kristen Miller

emotional land mines


Sometimes it takes big acts to get us to stop and realize there are things from the past that, despite having fully dealt with them to the best of our ability at the time, resurface and need our immediate attention again. I call these "big acts" (and sometimes they're relatively small acts) emotional land mines. What counts as an emotional land mine? Anything that causes us to go back in time and relive painful experiences; the trigger can be as simple as a sight, smell, taste, touch, sound, etc. The trigger for me this afternoon was sight.

We were doing one of our Wellness Wednesdays and in the middle of reading and analyzing articles about celebrities who overcame hardships. Each student read an article about a particular celebrity, then "jigsawed" to allow all students to learn about multiple celebrities without everyone individually reading 20 articles. I decided to spice up the jigsaw activity by including a "musical chairs" element. Kids were up walking around while music was playing, then when the music stopped they had to sit down at the closest group of chairs and communicate with other students about their celebrity. It was fun!

Until.

While I was playing music, I looked up in time to see one student chasing another one across the classroom. I told both students to go outside, and read them the riot act about WHY running around in the classroom wasn't appropriate. They gave me a "deer in headlights" look, so I decided it might be beneficial for me to give them some context. I explained that a few years back I built a wildly successful program at the school I was at, forged really strong relationships and connections with my students, and had nothing but success on the horizon.

Until.

While I was helping a student with his project, a different student came in and said, "Ms. Miller, Johnny hurt himself." I had allowed a few students to use the empty classroom space to work on their project, and while doing this, they were playing around, and a desk fell on top of Johnny's hand, breaking two fingers. The result was that I was pulled from the program I built. Friends and family who have legal background suspected that it was part of a legal settlement between Johnny's parents and the school district that cost me my job. After I explained this to my current students they seemed to understand, and we went back in the classroom. At this point I was still composed.

Until.

I opened the classroom door and ANOTHER group of students was playing around in class. I shut the activity down and we had a discussion about why it's not okay to "play around" in class. I gave them the full story I had just explained, but this time completely broke down. I was crying and said that it was REALLY difficult to have something that meant so much to me taken away for something like "playing around." I continued to explain that they all meant too much to me for me to get pulled from this program as well, so I really needed their help in not playing so much. Many students came to comfort me and kids were settled down for the rest of the class period.

So my emotional land mine (seeing kids playing around in class in a way where someone could get significantly hurt) surfaced to tell me that it was time to revisit that painful time so I can continue moving forward to be the best teacher I can be, and empower my students to embrace THEIR land mines so they grow stronger, persevere, and be more resilient in their own futures.

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Sacramento, California, USA

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