So...how to respond?
-Well, yeah. Learning is hard, but how great - you must be learning something new!
-Yes, but that doesn't mean we give up.
-Please don't yell across the classroom and disturb everyone who is writing. It's okay to be frustrated, but it's not okay to interrupt everyone else who is working.
-What can I do to help you?
-Remember when I've talked about that idea of cognitive dissonance, where things get more confusing before they start to make sense in your brain when you're learning something new? Well, I think you're in that stage right now.
Take your pick. I'm actually pretty sure I said a variation on every one of those options in the minutes following that outburst.
Then I started thinking about it some more. My thoughts first went to...hmmmm, I really thought I had explained that well when I was talking with him, but maybe not. How can I explain it in a way that will help? Then, as I looked at the boy's face across the room, I realized that I recognized the body language and look of utter frustration. Just last spring I had been exactly there. When? At a writing retreat for my National Boards portfolio. I get it. I just wanted to be done and have it make sense and write whatever and just get it over with. I understood the emotion this kid was feeling. And it made me change my thinking to empathizing with him versus questioning it.
And as I write this, I realize what perhaps I came to understand even more today. It's crucial that I continue to be a learner. It's important for my role as a teacher that I put myself in situations that can help me feel what my students might feel like on a daily basis (without quite as much middle school angst). How can I possibly understand what my students are going through if I haven't gone through it? And I'm not just talking about thinking back to all those years ago when I was in middle school. I'm talking about continuing to be a learner today. With my understandings where they are, if I hadn't pushed myself past my comfort zone to that stage of cognitive dissonance recently myself, I'm not sure that I would have so quickly moved in my mindset to understanding just exactly what that feels like. And what did I need when I was feeling that way? To get up and take a walk, get a drink of water, talk to someone about something else for a few minutes, give my brain a break...and then get back to it. So why shouldn't I give my students the opportunity for that same outlet of taking that break to keep the thinking fresh? Something I'll be remembering the next time this happens.