Very early in my career I learned the importance of treating my students like human beings who deserved the same respect any other human being deserved. Erica taught me this lesson.
I had asked my students to get a paper signed and bring it back the next day. When I came to Erica’s desk, she didn’t have her paper signed, in fact, she didn’t even have her paper. I had repeated over and over the day before how important this paper was and that I reeeeallllllyyyyy needed it back the next day, no exceptions. Without even a blink, I let Erica know how disappointed I was and told her she would not be permitted to go out to recess that day. Instantly she was in tears.
Recess rolled around and all the other children scrambled out the door and Erica sat completely dejected in her seat. I went over and sat down next to her. “Erica, you know how important that paper was. Why didn’t you return it today?” Blubbering through her tears, Erica managed to explain that “Mommy had to take Baby Jessica to the emergency room last night and my daddy is out of town . . . .”
Now I was the one who wanted to cry. If I had just taken even a second to ask how she was today. If I had just said to her, “let’s talk about this at recess” and given her a chance to explain, instead of instantly assuming she just disobeyed or didn’t care about the assignment.
I never started another class without asking my students how they were or if they seemed particularly upset about something, giving them a chance to voice whatever it was they needed heard.
Fast forward 20 plus years as I walked into the dialysis room one afternoon. I was a little bit late because I was helping a student with something after school. As soon as I walked to my chair, without even a greeting, the tech looked at me and with a stern voice said, “You’re late!” I started to apologize and explain, but he continued in his annoyed voice, “This throws off the timing of my day!” The first thought through my head was , “Can we talk about how many days I am usually waiting for YOU?” and the next thought was, I’m the last patient in that chair, so the “timing of his day” meant he might be a little late getting out of work that evening.
I mumbled an apology and went about getting settled in my chair. One of the first things you do upon entering a dialysis room is weigh yourself so they can see how much fluid needs to be removed in your treatment that day. This particular day I had gained a bit too much fluid weight, but I was also having issues with fluid build up around my lung so the additional fluid was not something I could control. When I gave my tech my weight, again, in a stern voice, he blurted out, “You gained too much weight! You need to watch your fluid intake!” And again, I tried to offer an explanation, but he wanted nothing to do with it.
One more incident occurred almost immediately after the fluid gain encounter and a similar nasty response was given to me. Heaving a big sigh, I looked at him and said, “How are you today?” And the complaints just rolled off his tongue . . . .he was, without a doubt, having a bad day, and I was the victim of his wrath.
When he finally finished with his long list of complaints, I simply said I hoped the end of his day would be better than the rest of it had been. I noticed as my treatment time passed, he got a little softer and less confrontational with me.
We never know what circumstances a person is coming from before we encounter them. Three simple words – how are you? – and maybe the chance to voice whatever it is that needs to be voiced – and it could instantly improve or change a person’s day for the better.