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My Darkest Day: Ivy Martinez (Bay Area '10) breaks down in front of her class

November 1, 2012


There are the moments that no one wants to talk about. Those times when you do things in your classroom that you aren’t proud of. You wish those moments away, and secretly hope none of your kids go home and tell their parents that you lost it or came close to losing it. Moments when you hope wholeheartedly that your kids will forgive you because you are struggling to forgive yourself. We all have them and no one likes to talk about them. You yelled. You said something inappropriate. You did something that may have made your kids feel like less than they truly are.

In my second year, most people would assume I had it all figured out. Same kids, same families. Seemed like my job was set-up for me to get there and just execute. What comes with knowing your kids deeply is a pressure to get things done with them at high levels. You bring this pressure on yourself because you’re human, and you hate to let down those who know you best and trust you most.

It was a dim week at the end of November. It was one of those weeks where Monday starts terribly and there’s so minimal hope that the week will turn out okay, much less that it will turn out to be an excellent week. All of Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, I was doing that thing where you stop every 5 minutes to regroup because more than half of the class has lost focus. It was getting exhausting.

On Thursday, I snapped.

It was during the note-taking section of Math, and we were learning about positive and negative integers (no easy feat for 5th grade).  We were 5 minutes into note-taking and I had already stopped to regroup multiple times. My edge was approaching, and I could feel myself getting more and more frustrated. This time, I didn’t yell. I didn’t say anything inappropriate.

Instead, I cried. Actually, I sobbed. Full, guttural sobs.

We were sitting with the lights off so they could see the Smart Board to copy down notes. My 31 ten-year olds and me—their 23-year old teacher, crying helplessly. Why was I crying? There was no other way to express my frustration by that point. It was November. I was exhausted from staying up until 1 a.m. every morning working and getting to school at 7 a.m. after a one-hour commute to tutor my entire class, extending my day an hour longer than every other teacher at my school. I was crying because these were supposed to be kids that knew me well enough to know that a bad Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday means we better get our act together for Thursday. I was crying because I was supposedly a “good” teacher and now I was struggling to get through notes in math.

So, I got up and turned on the lights. By that time, the side-chatter had subsided and most of my kids were looking at me with their mouths agape. Shoulders still shaking, I flipped the note-taking sheet over and wrote on the blank space “Take out your silent reading books and read.” These words projected on the Smart Board and the kids slowly got their books out—most holding the books open but still staring at me as I made my way over to my desk.

I cried for 25 more minutes before I was able to write them another note. “I have never told you how old I am. I am 23. I have no life outside of this class. YOU are my entire life right now. And I am horribly disappointed.”

For the first time that week, silence took over the classroom. My head was pounding with the potential backlash I was sure would come to be. What would their families say? “You are inappropriate.” “Unprofessional.” Or worst of all—“We thought we knew you better; this is not like you at all.”

Only one call came that night. Emanuel’s father was brief and we were off the phone in less than a minute. “Today you showed my son your heart. We are all sorry. I am sure the kids will be better tomorrow. Please don’t give up on them.”

See what things looked like when Ivy Martinez turned things around with these videos and resources at the Sue Lehmann website.


(Photo credit: colemama)