I Don’t Like My Shadow

I shamed a student once. She was kind, high performing, never got in trouble, participated positively in class activities, and had a good sense of humor. She started to ask something in what I thought was a sarcastic tone, and as if no middle school student were ever sarcastic (heck, as if no middle school student had been sarcastic that period), I unloaded on her. She protested that she wasn’t trying to be sarcastic, but I piled on. I bullied her.

I hope I never forget what it felt like the moment I realized I broke her.

I tried to recoup and get the lesson back on track but had to stop and apologize to her in front of the class saying I didn’t know what got into me. Later, when students were working independently I told her privately again that it was all my fault and I was sorry. At the end of class, as she walked by me, I told her I was embarrassed.

I called her mom and let her know what had happened and how badly I felt. She thanked me and said everyone’s been there. I also told the assistant principal, a couple of colleagues, and some friends. Everyone said that no one is perfect, that everyone loses it sooner or later. And that’s true.

But how did it help the girl?

In a sermon called The Future Can Change the Past, Rabbi Harold Kushner analyzes guilt and apologies and introduces the word teshuva. In teshuva, roughly translated as repentance, and literally translated as return, you go beyond apologizing for what you did and promising not to repeat it. You confront yourself as person who could hurt another and say you don’t want to be that person any more.

In his explanation, Kushner refers to Carl Jung’s “Shadow,” which is everyone’s dark side made up of:  “…all the parts of our personality that we are embarrassed by, the dark side of us, the habits that we wish were not there.”  We avoid facing them but, like our shadow, they follow us wherever we go. Teshuva, then, is the “radical surgical procedure for getting rid of our shadow.”

My teshuva has included telling (confessing?) to various people how I had bullied an innocent child, meeting with her and the counselor (at her request), and attending to the Christian (my faith) process of propitiation. All that put my shadow in front of me, and I’m not afraid to face it.

But how did any of that help the girl?


Sandy Merz

I grew up in Silver City, New Mexico and went the University of New Mexico, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Geology. After working for the U.S. Geological Survey in remote regions of western New Mexico, I moved to Tucson to attend graduate school at the University of Arizona, earning a Master of Science degree in Hydrogeology. While working as an intern hydrologist for a local county agency, I started doing volunteer work that involved making presentations in schools. At that moment I knew teaching was the path to follow. It must have been a good decision because I’m still on the path after thirty-two years. My teaching certificates are in math and science and I am a National Board Certified Teacher in Career and Technical Education. After teaching engineering and math and elective classes at the same school in downtown Tucson my whole career, I’ve moved to a different middle school and district on the edge of town to teach math. In addition to full time teaching, I am actively involved in the teacher leadership movement by facilitating National Board candidates, blogging for Stories from School Arizona, and serving on the Arizona K12 Center’s TeacherSolutions team. In January 2017, Raytheon Missile System named me a Leader in Education and I’m a former Arizona Hope Street Fellow.

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