High school English teacher Monte Syrie had an unusual response when he noticed one of his students sleeping during his class — he let her be.
Syrie recently explained his reasoning in a now-viral tweet, which was a powerful lesson in both empathy and looking at the bigger picture.
“Meg fell asleep in class yesterday,” Syrie wrote. “I let her. I didn’t take it personally.”
That alone is a strong sentiment and one that may raise some eyebrows, but as Syrie explains in his tweet, he is in charge of what happens in his classroom — and is keenly aware of what is going on in his students’ lives.
In this case, Syrie knew that his student Meg had “zero-hour math, farm-girl chores, state-qualifying 4×400 fatigue, adolescent angst, and various other things to deal with.” He wrote that he knows that his class is “only a part of her life, not her life.”
Syrie teaches at Cheney High School in Spokane, Washington. He tells Babble that he believes in choosing “empathy and compassion” when it comes to his students.
“They are human,” he explains, “and that is how I see and treat them, and as a fellow human who has benefited from the grace and compassion of others, I am compelled to treat kids — the very best human beings — as such.”
In his tweet, Syrie admitted that his student Meg “didn’t use her time wisely in class.”
“She didn’t get her essay turned in,” he noted. “She knew that. I knew that, but I didn’t beat her up about it. Didn’t have to. She emailed it to me last night at 9 p.m. On her own.”
Syrie wrote that he knows that his student made a mistake and that letting kids sleep in class falls “outside the boundaries,” but that he believes in looking at the bigger picture. While allowing that this should not become routine, he suggested “that we sometimes trust our instincts, even if it goes against the grain, maybe especially if it goes against the grain.”
“I am not always convinced ‘the grain’ best considers kids,” he added.
He makes a profound and valuable point. I remember being exhausted in high school. In fact, I fell asleep with my head on my desk on more than one occasion, and yet I was a good student.
Teens today are facing even more pressures than when I attended high school, and yet many are not getting adequate sleep.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that teens get 8-10 hours of sleep each night to function best, but notes that “one study found that only 15% reported sleeping 8 1/2 hours on school nights.”
Syrie is helping his students where he can.
“I can’t control the world outside,” he explained in his tweet. “I can’t offer Meg a math class later in the day. I cannot feed her horses (many horses) in the morning or evening. I cannot run 6 race-pace 300’s for her. I cannot spirit away her teen trouble. But I can give her a break. She was not being rude or disrespectful yesterday when she nodded off. She was tired. So I gave her a break.”
How refreshing! We can all use a break sometimes, and what really matters is that Syrie genuinely cares for his students. He’s not only concerned that they meet some mark, but also considers their well-being.
Syrie tells Babble that he wants people to know that this is really not about Meg (who is obviously accomplishing a lot at her young age).
“It could have been any of my students,” he says. “I was moved by a moment with Meg, but it was never about Meg. It’s about kids. It’s about education. It’s about teachers. It’s about choosing empathy and compassion. It’s about choosing humanity, and that’s why I shared the story. And for Meg’s sake, I want people to understand that.”
As a mother, I would be grateful to have an educator like Syrie looking after my kids. He is not only teaching curriculum, but life lessons as well. By choosing empathy, he is gaining the trust of his students which will better help them to learn and grow.