Teachers are seen as Parents/Carers on an unconscious level
You as teachers – are thought to be the ones ‘to blame’ for the anxieties that exist in the children in front of you. In the same way the baby blames the mother for not being present whenever she needs to feed or be held or be kept warm, so you are to blame for the test being too hard, the lesson being too long, the difficulty of leaning itself.
You also can be the ‘good’ parent. The provider of all good things, the teacher who always pitches everything right and teaches brilliantly! Of course this may vary from pupil to pupil in any group. Some may project all positive feelings into you and with them you may have the most successful lessons. Conversely you may do the same lesson with another group and due to unrecognised projections, you strangely miss the mark by a mile.
Also, you may do something similar with your anxieties. You may decide, unconsciously, maybe based on some evidence, that one class is the class that is the ‘bad’ year 9 class and another class the ‘good’ year 9 class. It seems, if not thought about, our anxieties will find a host somewhere, either in an individual or a class or maybe a colleague or SLT or the Head teacher or Ofsted.
What is important to remember is that this binary way of thinking is rooted in our own need to survive and belongs to our earliest experiences. The truth the maturing infant has to face, and a truth that is continually challenging to accept is our own place in the equation. In other words, instead of throwing our projections on others, the way they might be thrown on us, how can we, by thinking about them decide what really needs to be done in order for us and those we teach to thrive.
When Anxiety is overwhelming people – pupils/teachers – revert to a basic survival state of mind. This stage has no space for complex thinking. Like the infant, our thoughts, our assumptions become life threatening – on an unconscious level – and we need to split them off from ourselves and project them into others.
A classroom is an anxious place for all students but for some more than others. There is a demand that students will do as. the teacher asks – so they must trust that the teacher is a benign force, someone there to help, the mother that comes to feed and that can tolerate their anxieties. They have to step into the unknown and risk – so they need to know that they will be ‘held’ and helped to cross over to a place of new understanding, solid ground, where they can assess their progress. Again, this requires that there is a relationship of trust between teacher and student, a feeling that the teacher will be able to help them – I am reminded here of the importance of subject knowledge for a teacher, combined with a differentiated knowledge of each student. All of these classroom ‘mechanisms’ add to a sense of safety and trust. An understanding of how these fundamental unconscious needs show up in the room and how we can work with them is a real game changer for teachers and for students learning. However, it is also important to understand what the students may be saying us or more significantly what they are projecting onto us, when things get rough for them. For example, a pupil who says that you are boring – a particularly difficult barb for many teachers – might be projecting something of their own anxiety around ‘staying with the unknown’ in your lesson. If they can put that anxiety into you – if you respond in a hurt or aggressive way – however subtle, they might be relieved of their anxiety – it is not their inability to learn that is the problem but your inability to teach. Their quest for the ‘known’ is satisfied and you are the solution! There are many such ‘projections’ in the way students communicate with teachers and they are particularly noticeable in students who find school or classroom environments challenging for whatever reason. These communications are often not verbal of course, they are unconscious communications. You ‘get the feeling’ that you are being boring or that you are being bullied or that you are feeling angry and out of control. Some of these feelings indeed may be yours but equally, they may not be. Students who are forced to come to school, who are herded from one classroom to another, who are expected to conform, no matter what subject, no matter who is teaching them, who are often treated as though they are all the same – often communicate their frustrations through behaviour that reveals their unconscious and sometimes conscious anxieties.
The question to ask yourself is ‘What are they anxious about?’. If a student accuses you of picking on them if you insist you do their work may want to avoid the pressure you are putting on her to contain their anxiety long enough to complete the task. They may feel bullied by the difficulty of what you are asking them to do and want to escape it. If they can get a rise out of you, if you respond to accusation rather than think about what the behaviour is communicating about their struggle then they might be alleviated of having to face it. The problem becomes yours – you’re the bully – rather that the challenging work you are setting.
What other projections (disguised as accusations aimed at you or other students or communicate as feelings) can you recognise? Like the table you made for the “My Anxieties/Their anxieties”, make another one, but this time try to imagine what is being communicated and how you might respond:
THE ACCUSATION/FEELING THE PROJECTION THE COMMUNICATION THE SOLUTION