This post will conclude my three-part Teacher Teacher series of posts and I think this post is actually relevant to us all, but particularly to those who have considerable input into the development of our children in the formative years.
Just to recap…
Part One dealt with the high-pressure nature of teaching and invited teachers to contemplate the things that nourish them so that they could improve their chances of remaining powerful and effective during stressful times.
Part Two took this a little further connecting personal nourishment as an important contribution to your ability to meet others with softness and strength when they need that in you the most – when they are feeling vulnerable or troubled and lacking in control.
Part Three tells a story.
It is the story of an eight-year-old boy who, in grade 3, was very excited about the upcoming eisteddfod his class was going to be singing in.
However, as rehearsals gathered steam, it became clear his was a developing voice.
The teacher decided that students who weren’t singing perfectly would only be allowed to mouth the words and thus make no noise.
He was told singing just wasn’t his thing.
And, as a result, this became his truth.
He avoided singing in front of others at all costs and often joked about how bad he was to avoid that possibility.
When singing in choirs became optional there was no way he would put his name forward – after all he couldn’t sing. His singing career appeared over before it had even started.
Now there was a problem with all this.
Secretly the boy loved music and he loved to sing.
Now this boy already had a lot of issues around confidence and perhaps learning to sing and then doing so in public might have been just what he needed.
But it wasn’t to be.
Instead, this experience further consolidated his understanding that for him life was about being seen and not heard.
And of course this lead to him believing, over time, that even being seen was not something that this world would reserve for him.
As fate would have it, years later he would meet once again with his grade three teacher.
He seized the opportunity to discuss what had become a defining moment in his childhood.
‘We were all set to go in an eisteddfod and you wouldn’t let me sing. You told me I wasn’t able to and that singing wasn’t for me!’
‘That can’t have happened,’ she said, ‘that’s just not something I would do!’
Oh yes it was!
And you did it!
I was the boy.
And here we see why Part One and Two in this series were so important.
Teachers work in a high stress environment and things can be said in the heat of the moment or when taking a certain course of action without having the time, resources or right head space for thinking it through; things that can be very hurtful to a young child in the formative years of their life. At a time when they are trying to work out who they are and what they stand for.
As a teacher it is a very real possibility that you could say something cutting to a child in a moment when you feel vulnerable; something you will forget by the day’s end, but the child who was on the receiving end might use as irrefutable evidence when considering their own self-worth and their abilities in different areas.
I still remember a time when I was a classroom teacher and I was speaking to a student from another class and of whom I was very fond.
I asked him how his NAPLAN tests were going. (NAPLAN is a national annual assessment of Australian students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9)
He replied, ‘I don’t have to do them. I’m too dumb!’
It broke my heart.
Kids aren’t stupid.
Even when you communicate something with political-esque spin they will, more than likely be able to read between the lines.
So why would I encourage teachers to take extra special care of their physical and emotional health (apart from the personal benefits of course)?
It’s so they can increase the chances they will be able to do the same for those in their care.
After all, will you, as a teacher (and I extend this to any person in the role of teacher), be responsible for your students believing they are worthy of singing their song – or contribute to a belief in them that their voice is a voice best kept quiet.
Remember, there is a strong chance the limitations and labels you put on your students are limitations and labels they will adopt.
To every teacher out there caring for and inspiring our young I take my hat off to you.
The Teacher Teacher series was an invitation for you to consider how you care for yourself, particularly given that yours is a role where it is expected you will give so much.
In your role you may even come across young people whose only chance at a positive influence in their lives might be you.
And it could be your most troublesome and disruptive student. You will need a lot fuel in your personal tank to manage such a student effectively and positively.
And even then this might not be enough even though they need you.
What to do when you do lose it – and you probably will at some stage?
Well, my advice is to forgive yourself and shower yourself with love because you are only human. And to be human is to be flawed and imperfect just as much as it to be unique and beautiful.
Then set about having the conversation that repairs and nourishes you, your student and your relationship with them.
Remember, it’s not you versus them. Maybe they hold that belief but you can’t.
Not when they need you on their team – even when they rarely show it.
And this is the lot of the servant leader; to stand up and fight for what is right, even when you’re outnumbered, under-resourced and out on your feet.
Aussie teachers, I wish you all the best for a brilliant end to the year and an awesome summer holiday.
And to teachers everywhere and of every style and of every age may God bless you and your work.