Empty.

Well, it’s taken me a week or so to process it all, but about ten days ago I experienced a day from hell in my classroom.

First of all, let me say this: student teaching did not prepare me for this crazy time in the lives of children. The few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are insane and the children are, for lack of better term, off the CHAIN. My student teaching finished right at the end of November, so I never saw this period of time at school — such an eye-opening experience.

Friday, November 30 is a day that will live on in my memory as my lowest teaching moment. 24 eight-year-olds made me cry in front of them and I just walked out of the room in my dismay.

Yes, you read that correctly my friends: I cried in front of my class because they were being so disrespectful and rude and then proceeded to just leave them.

I rearranged the whole afternoon so that I could help them with math. We’re behind in finishing our current chapter book read aloud, but I decided to push that to the side so that I could reinforce some math skills. Kids were playing around and crawling on the floor and one of them stepped outside in the hallway because he didn’t feel like finishing his work — seriously, I felt like the most incompetent person in the world. I told them to put everything away and go sit at their desks since they so obviously didn’t want any help with the assignment. There were still kids playing around the room and I was just fed up with their absurd behavior (“absurd” is a word that my students now know because I use it so often to describe the way they behave at the end of the day). It was like all of the disrespect and the little things just finally  made me explode into a rage of tears. I was fortunate enough to not start shedding uncontrollable amounts of tears in front of them, but my voice quaked and my eyes reddened with each word I tried to speak (read: yell). Then, I just walked out into the hallway.

To be completely honest, I had no idea what the heck I was doing. I couldn’t really believe any of it was happening. Did I just walk out of my classroom? As I was alone in my thoughts, I heard one student yell, “YOU MADE MISS STEWART CRY!!!” and I secretly in my heart hoped they all felt terrible.

Another adult saw me in the hallway and went into my room to tend to my class. This certain adult is a man sent from God as a behavior specialist in Durham who is able to tame uncontrollable behaviors. He’s magical.

As I cried in the bathroom alone, all I could think about was how weak I was — how I couldn’t even keep it together in front of my students. How unprofessional and inappropriate and, ultimately, embarrassing.

The students left and I was able to talk out my feelings with my coworkers (love my third grade team to the moon and back), and we came to the conclusion that maybe this isn’t the worst thing in the world. Maybe the kids needed to see that Miss Stewart has feelings like a real person, too (because let’s be serious, when you were a kid you didn’t think your teacher was a real person either).

I finally finished my sob-fest and told myself that Monday was the start of a new week. As I was cleaning up and getting things ready to go, I saw a key in one of my drawers across the room.

Friends, this key wasn’t just in any random drawer — it was in my confiscated toy drawer (yes, BeyBlades are the bane of my existence and I seize them upon witnessing their presence in my classroom).

This was funny to me, considering the fact that I did not confiscate any toys on that particular day.

I walked across the room to the unlocked drawer and opened it only to find a few of the toys missing. I felt so many things all at once: anger, violation, frustration, sadness. Where does a kid learn this stuff? Trying to analyze this predicament, I realized that this student first would have needed to get into my teacher cabinet where I keep the keys (in this teacher cabinet, I also keep my personal belongings, such as my phone, wallet/purse, and car keys). Then, he would have had to unlock the drawer and take the toys.

Essentially, this is a classic case of elementary breaking and entering.

Truly, I was furious, and yes, I did cry again. Why would a child steal from me? What kind of environment have I been fostering to make a child think it’s acceptable to behave that way? What could I have done differently?

In that moment, I had to pack up everything and leave. I couldn’t be in that building anymore. Driving home, I simply felt empty. That dull, empty feeling was like I got kicked in the stomach.

See, I work so hard in creating good lessons (and executing those lessons) for these kids. I want more than anything in the world for them to love learning and to really gain a positive school experience. I’m doing everything in my power to pretty much give these kids a brighter future and they disrespect me and steal from me. That really hurts, and to the point where words aren’t even really sufficient since it’s such a deeply pained emotion.

It took me a couple days to get back to my normal teaching self. Monday I was still pretty upset, even though I tried to mask my frustration with the situation. Tuesday was a little better, but when I discovered who the toy thief was I was pretty unhappy with that, too. It wasn’t until Wednesday I would say that I felt like I was back in my groove — and trust me, that’s a while for me to be off-kilter in a job where I normally feel very in my element.

My small group leader told me that when I was telling her about all of this (there were tears involved in just the retelling of this fiasco), it reminded her of the compassion that God has for all of us, even when we disrespect Him and steal from the toy drawer. Stepping back, I’m able to see more of how this is such a perfect opportunity to show God’s grace and love to these kids.

Even though I feel like I hit rock bottom that day, I’m confident that it can only go up from here. This time is just so difficult for my kids — the holidays are crazy for everyone, but I think the prospect of not really having holidays to celebrate is what makes it even harder for these kids.

A friend told me I wouldn’t be as upset as I was if I didn’t love these kids as much as I do. I think she’s right.