Yep.....it really happened. A silent but deadly one too.....
Before I get to that story, let me tell you another story first.
We live in a perfectionist culture, and it's a toxic one for sure. Do amazing at work AND have a social life AND get enough sleep. Get promoted and do it quickly. Make more money than your peers, land that lucrative job otherwise you're not good enough. Get straight A's otherwise you're not trying hard enough. Feel great every single day, if you feel down just get back up. These messages of perfectionism...we're inundated by them through social media and societal expectations. Because as a society, we're not talking about the hard stuff. We're not talking about what happens when you're not perfect
I want to talk about the hard stuff...the hard consequences of our perfectionist culture. And farting in front of my students isn't even the hardest moment I can think of. The truth is, cultures that buy into perfectionism strengthen and encourage feelings of shame, guilt, and embarrassment.
Brene Brown (everybody, especially those in helping professions, should check her out!) taught me three things. There's a difference between shame, guilt, and embarrassment.
Everybody struggles with shame, guilt, and embarrassment. Adolescents have an especially hard time dealing with these three emotions.
Here's how I've come to understand shame, guilt, and embarrassment.
Level 1: Embarrassment
Alright, you've read this far, you get to hear the story
Farting on a student was embarrassing to say the least. "Oh my GOD Ms. TSAI my NOSTRILS hurt!" screamed this one kid super loudly. Immediately my body shoots into panic mode. I blame it on another kid, they don't believe me. I play it off "haha yeah I'm allowed to be human TOO!" and laugh with the kids. After a few seconds, the feeling of heat and embarrassment wears off (and the smell....). The next day, the kid walks into class like nothing happened. We're cool again, he respects me just the same. Life moves on as normal, and now we have this funny story to talk about again and again (ugh)
Embarrassment is temporary and often humorous. Embarrassment is an uncomfortable but not destructive emotion.
Level 2: Guilt
Guilt is feeling bad for doing something that's against your values, but in a way that's separate from how you value/view yourself as a person. Guilt is being late to class as the teacher, and apologizing and explaining to the students what happened (I'm human too, SEPTA is still the worst, even to adults). Guilt is not grading a test quickly enough and feeling like I'm not a good role model for the students, but being honest about the situation to the students. Guilt is hiding in my classroom when I know I should be out collaborating with my colleagues, but I know I need to recharge or else I will burn out, and I can find other ways of collaborating.
Guilt is long-lasting, but productive. I know I can improve in areas where I feel guilty, and guilt helps me recognize where I need to change. Guilt is a motivating emotion.
Level 3: Shame
Shame on the other hand is a totally different world. Shame is the word to describe how I felt as a first year teacher. Feelings of "I'm not good enough" or "I'm not cut out for this job" or "I'm just not as good as my peers". Feeling trapped by shame is way worse than farting on a student, because shame lasts over the span of months, sometimes even years (whereas embarrassment quickly dissipates with humor). Shame can brainwash you and convince you that you're not worthy. Shame is incredibly sneaky....it operates when I don't even realize it's there. Shame has the power to make me feel powerless. I'm only starting to understand how shame works in my mind and body. I'd choose embarrassment over shame any day, but we don't always get to make that choice.
Shame is a destructive emotion. And too often....schools use shame to control teachers and students. It's not OK and we need to talk about it.
To be continued.....