There were about 16 new teachers in the room. The room was warm and my presentation slides lit up their faces like a winter fire. Rain blew in gusts against the window and the grey day conceded to the early December gloam.
my presentation slides lit up their faces like a winter fire.
They looked exhausted. One teacher was speaking. She was bewildered about why her classes seemed to ‘want to’ make her cry. Muted voices of students in far off classrooms drifted along the corridor.
Teaching is one of the greatest jobs on the planet but it is also one of the toughest.
About a week ago I was delivering my training ‘a mind to teach’ to a group of new teachers at a state secondary school in London. The training, developed over the course of sixteen years teaching and 6 years psychology training, offers teachers insights into the implicit learning dynamic between teacher and learner and frames off-task behaviour using a social psychology model. The training stresses that learners project past learning experiences and relationships onto their relationships with both learning and teachers. Understanding what pupils innately want from their relationships with any potential carer – the teacher being the “carer-in-mind” for the student – frees teachers from issues of self-blame and offers them tools to diffuse some of the potentially explosive situations they can sometimes find themselves facing.
learners project past learning experiences and relationships onto their relationships with both learning and teachers
The training puts the effect of anxiety at its centre. It deals with the reality and challenge that forming new and effective learning relationships poses for new teachers. The training uses examples from teachers own experience to show how they and their pupils are driven to consciously or unconsciously take care of themselves in the face of the ‘unknown’.
For students, learning requires stepping into the unknown
For students, learning requires stepping into the unknown. Learning can be threatening; an opportunity for unwanted feelings of helplessness. This takes courage and its counterpart en-courage-ment from a teacher who seems ‘solid’ and ready to help. New teachers, naturally tentative, not yet founded on experience can sometimes add to uncertainty and so are vulnerable to ‘attacks’ from pupils defending themselves from an innate fear of humiliation.
At the heart of the training is the idea that a teacher’s main role is to take charge of the anxiety in the room, their own first, and to think of a positive and effective learning environment as one where uncertainty is managed with clarity and kindness.
Everyone in the classroom is a little afraid of what might happen next.
Thinking of your role in this way, may be helpful. Everyone in the classroom is a little afraid of what might happen next. Often, those who act out the most, have the most at stake. All of task behaviour is a way of asking for help. This is easy to say but more difficult to enact in the heat of a disintegrating classroom.
Back in the training room, one or two participants are dismissive of the training – they are determined to plough on, deliver the lessons they had prepared, charge bullishly through the brick walls. Nothing wrong with that. Others though, were not shy of opening up about the difficulties they were facing.
Despite all of the advice to ‘not take it personally’, teaching is personal.
Teaching is one of the greatest jobs on the planet but it is also one of the most challenging. Despite all of the advice to ‘not take it personally’, teaching is personal. Teaching is entirely predicated on the ‘personal’. The key thing to remember is that, it is personal for the pupils too. That’s why some of them defend themselves so assiduously.
The Coca-cola truck is trundling through snow blanketed streets and you’re ready to fill your face to the brim with vats of chocolate. You’ve survived one of the most stressful jobs on the planet and you’re still alive! Soon you will be thriving. Well done. Congratulations and happy holidays and thank you for putting yourself out there and stepping into the unknown with your students.
There will be time to reflect but now it’s time to celebrate.