Last Thursday was an emotional white-knuckle ride. I plunged from high up to the rock bottom, only to whizz up into the starlight a couple of hours later. That day drained me from all energy, but wow, that day will stay with me forever. What happened there and then made me think of so many different things on so many various levels. It made me ask deeply personal questions, it made me ponder on the responsibilities of a human being and of course, it made me reflect on what it means to be a Teacher.
But before I give you an account of that memorable Thursday I would like to thank you, my teacher friends who responded so quickly to my call for help and support on FB. This would be my WOW moment to write in the footsteps of Mike’s Living PLNeously. I felt so vulnerable and alone, but your lovely comments, your virtual pats on my shoulder helped me go towards the what I then thought would be a devastating meeting with a strong belief that every moment is a good moment to learn and grow, or as Vicky put it so smartly and joyfully in one of her talks “teachable moment! teachable moment!” I thought of her and her mantra and how that would be a moment I could teach myself something new.
It was a Thursday full of lessons. I had the first half of the day behind me when two students from the morning class came to look for me in the teachers’ room. They asked me to step outside as they needed to share something. Once in the hallway they seemed rather fidgety and uneasy looking nervously around them as if scared we might be overheard. Then they told me they had something very important to share, something that couldn’t wait much longer. They absolutely needed to confess something. I looked at the girls, nodded supportively, yet inside I could feel the gates into the dark and menacing world of doubt and self esteem screeching slowly open.
“We came in the name of the whole class to let you know that we are really lost in your lessons.”
“Yes, Madame, we all have problems learning anything. There seems to be no logic. Everything is so frantic and unconnected.”
“Yeah, and many complain they haven’t learned anything during the last months. It’s like a waste of time. And we don’t even understand what we have to learn and then there’s the test and nobody knows and then we have bad marks and it’s not even our fault!!!!!!!!”
THAT was the dialogue that I dreaded. But it didn’t happen … not anywhere else but in my highly imaginative teacher underworld.
Instead, the girls kept looking around them and exchanging nervous looks. Then one of them told me it was a long story and couldn’t be told like that, and did I, maybe, have a spare moment later on when we could all sit down together. Of course I had that moment, and of course we fixed a meeting three hours later.
And that’s when I spent the vulnerability afternoon chanting Vicky’s mantra and preparing myself for the worst. While the students were taking their written tests I scribbled down any arguments I could use in my defense. I also put down questions to guide them in their self-reflextion as students. I tried hard to analyse their group and the lessons we’d had till then. Somehow it all seemed to work so well. I remembered content faces and smiling students. So where, where on earth had it gone wrong.
At four in the afternoon I went down, poured myself a good cuppa and decided to plunge into whatever professional life held there for me head on. The girls took their seats in an empty classroom, I closed the door, looked the girls in the eye and said, Before you say anything I want to congratulate you for your courage to come and speak when you feel there is a problem. So, come one girls, I’m all ears.
I sat down and smiled and waited.
“We came to you because we don’t dare to talk to anybody else. We were afraid of other teachers. So we decided to talk to you. We really need help.”
Thankfully I was seated or I would have missed the chair. Thankfully also, I controlled my facial expressions and didn’t let my mouth drop grand open. That enormous was my surprise and, let’s face it, relief!
After the girls had finished, after I had promised to handle their trust with care and talk to people who had the power to act and take far-reaching decisions, I drove back home. My heart, my whole body was weightless, but my head was a busy beehive of thoughts and questions. How had I earned their trust? And once you have it, how to handle such responsibility? I knew exactly who I had to talk to in my turn, but I didn’t want to blurt anything out without carefully honing my words, without making sure this trust wouldn’t be mishandled and violated. I couldn’t let this trust blow back into the girls’ faces with a nasty reaction from someone else. I was thinking of honesty and how fragile that can be. Honesty and trust can become blades that are planted into your back when you’re not looking. But they can be powerful media when given to the right people. How do you know who to trust?
I was also thinking of my own initial reaction. Why had it been so self-deprecating? Why had I immediately imagined the worst? Why had I feared dissatisfaction and negative feedback? Is it something personal? Or is it part of a bigger picture? Maybe teachers are like that? Just like any creative people who put themselves out into the world, who “get naked” in front of the audience, who lose themselves in the moment? Or simply because their work is to “please” their audience, i.e to make them progress or enjoy themselves, so negative feedback equals work poorly done.
I am glad they came to me, I am happy to be a teacher they dare to confide in and I will not betray their trust. Ever.
And I will continue being amazed at what an incredible life the one of a teacher can be!