Today launched the 2015 #TeachingIs social media campaign to share with the public the true complexity and importance of teaching. I’m passionate about this profession and helping teachers tell their stories, so, to be honest, I’ve become rather obsessed with it! I’m constantly thinking of how to explain the minute-by-minute experiences of a passionate, dedicated teacher.

Today, I planned to share this video I made and ask my students to participate in the campaign with our first 15 minutes of class. I was SO excited. Last year, I put on music and the students enthusiastically filled out poster after poster commemorating teachers for big and small deeds. I decided to snap some pictures, and ended up compiling this video from their answers. It was simply inspirational to see students eager to honor teachers who had impacted them. But as my second group of students filed in after lunch, I could sense the growing tenor in the room and it wasn’t good.

Three students out and a substitute replaced my Special Education co-teacher for the day. One student, brow furrowed, was frantically texting on his phone as the bell rang. Another came in with tears welled up in her big brown eyes–she looked like a glass vase about to shatter. To my right, a student buried his heads in his hands, not looking up. In this small, high-needs class, I was left with about 8 students who looked at me half bored for the directions of the day. My heart sank. My plan was predicated on inspiring them to appreciation and excitement. I wanted them to embrace a break from their current drafts and dive into the fun task of thanking a special teacher in their lives. But this crew didn’t look ready to thank anyone. They all looked like they needed a big hug.

So, #TeachingIs being flexible. It’s seeing the students in front of you which may not be the students you planned for. It’s adjusting.

I showed them the video anyway to give me a moment to recalibrate my expectations and approach. Then I decided to push through with the plan for music and messages so that I could sit down one-on-one with my brow-furrowed student. He had been receiving anonymous trolling texts all day and was about at his wit’s end. We talked through his options for action. I emphasized that he needed to plan to do something after school to vent his anger and frustration in a positive way rather than stuffing it. His two friends encouraged him to block the number and let it go. I reminded him of his option to report this person to an adult in our school. Before I left the conversation, I made a mental note to check in with him tomorrow.

I moved on to my next student in apparent crisis. He felt dizzy but didn’t want to go to the nurse. He completed a task, then retreated. I talked with him for a few minutes, then, allowed him the space to make his own decision about the next step. Made another mental note to ask how he was feeling the next time I saw him. Maybe call his mom to make sure she knew he was having these episodes.

Finally, I turned to my brown-eyed girl who had been falling to pieces. By this time, though her friend was able to cheer her up in a way that only true friends can–getting her to laugh even though she didn’t want to. Phew. I cajoled them both into letting me take a picture with their signs, and their smiles left me hopeful.

Each student managed at least one positive message by the end of class, and I want to hope that I was able to help send each of them back into the hallways a little better than when they arrived.

But #TeachingIs messy, and it doesn’t always show you the impact you make. The period felt rocky from start to finish–certainly not the best of my career. I tossed out the lesson plan, and focused instead on the students that were before me. I put their needs over my goals, and in the end, I’m choosing to be proud of that.

But I was also grateful for my awareness to share the stories of my classroom because today it made me a bit more reflective. Is teaching pulling students out of bad moods and sending them out your door with smiles? Is it sitting with them in their pain and holding a deep well of empathy? Is it both?

#TeachingIs knowing that there’s never one right answer.

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