A couple of months ago I witnessed the following scene.
One of our younger teachers came into the staff room, let his bag drop to the floor with a loud thump, and gave a very tired sigh. He then mentioned a name of a student who had given him some real headache, gave an account of their confrontation and looked utterly worn out. Right after his story one other teacher chipped in telling how wonderful she found this said student to be and how she never had problems with him, and anyhow, it’s probably because of the way she approached him. The younger teacher went out onto the balcony to have his cuppa.
It’s been said many a times that teaching can be a lonely job. We prepare our lessons alone, give them alone, correct the papers alone, all the while brooding over myriads of questions that arise during the intense interactions with students. Often we do not feel like opening up for the reason illustrated above. We might fear being judged (openly or silently), we are uncomfortable exposing what we feel are our shortcomings, we don’t want to come across as anything else but competent.
Yesterday I had one of these lessons which made me cringe and shudder and wish to be anywhere else but in front of this utterly dysfunctional group of older teens. When walking out of the classroom my usual teacher trolls came rushing in, ‘I am unable to manage a class!’, ‘I don’t know how to create a unity in this group’, well, you get the idea. Once in the staff room, I addressed a small group of colleagues with a sincere inquiry, ‘Tell me about this class. How is going for you?’ The answers I received calmed me down instantly. All of the teachers agreed that this was one of these ‘unfortunate’ groups of students who simply did not sync. The atmosphere in the class was always strange, a funny feeling of detachment hung in the air. All in all, yes, it was a funny bunch of students.
Driving home I felt full of energy. Desperation had gone, all the doubts and fears vanished into thin air, and that thanks to my warm-hearted and supportive colleagues. No, it wasn’t about me being a bad teacher, it was simply one of these groups that simply did not get off the ground.
True, I had not exposed myself right away. Before divulging my own disappointment, I tested the waters, so to say. But my message stays the same. We need empathy amongst us. If someone walks up to us and pours their heart out in desperation, instead of describing the fun we have with this or that student, or how we should have acted in a certain situation, why not just listen and try to understand (even if we don’t!). There’s a time for constructive criticism, and there’s a time for helping a colleague through a rough patch.
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