The underlying hurt

Vandini Sharma

It was one of those rare moments when the entire class kept gloomily silent. A single victim stood with his head bowed, feeling everyone’s eyes upon him. The teacher’s voice rang through the classroom, scolding him. They all wondered though, how could bouncing an eraser off the blackboard warrant such angst?

Vandini-sharma-1 It is a truth adults often disregard, but children are the most impressionable emotional observers of the underlying atmosphere in a classroom.

To begin with, no one really sets out to be a bad teacher. Surveys have proved the teaching profession to be the most critical in its self-evaluation of being a ‘good teacher’. With 40+ hours of work a week, statistics show teachers to be among the hardest working professionals in the world.

However most often, students are not judging the intricacy of the teaching technique but the subtle depths of the teacher’s personality. The class can see when a teacher talks calmly to a superior child, while somewhat disregarding the mediocre one. Students notice when a back-bencher is pricked sometimes mercilessly. They sense the underlying hurt in the teacher’s behaviour. There are times when a teacher feels plainly stressed out. Next come life’s own perils, emotional problems and family troubles which are inevitable in every human journey. These are the times when teachers themselves are not in a great shape of mind to do their jobs. The death of a loved one, financial snags, familial issues are problems which do not hit with a warning call.

In such circumstances most teachers feel the added responsibility of ‘blocking their grief in the classroom.’ This is the worst way of handling the situation.

‘When you are really going through a lot emotionally, you are not going to be the best version of yourself. You must come to terms with that and stop beating yourself up for not being a bubbling fountain of joy every day for your students,’ says Angela Watson, a teaching counsellor with 11 years of classroom experience. ‘This is an opportunity to recognize that you are not at your best, show yourself grace, and plan ahead in order to minimize the impact on your students.’

In these unhappy moments of life, the key is not to wind up but to slow down. Let your family and friends, even your students, help you out. You may share as much as you feel comfortable saying, but do have a talk with your students about what you’re going through. Entrusting them with important responsibilities and by showing that a teacher is a human being as well you will unleash a lot of unexpected help, affection and enthusiasm in your students. They are likely to relate to you and help.

Angela Watson recounts a fond experience. ‘I’ve gone through a couple of low-energy seasons in life and a bunch of my kids were fantastic about it. They’d help keep order in the classroom for me: “Hey, guys, be quiet, Mrs. Watson doesn’t feel good, remember? Don’t make her shout!” Such stuff just made my heart sing and really boosted my confidence. Grab onto those moments and let them motivate you to keep going. These kids will surprise you.’

Isn’t that a much simpler way of dealing with the situation?

On the other hand, there are times when life is not the emotional problem before a teacher. It is their perspective.

What may seem petty in an adult’s eyes, morphs into doubt of one’s self-worth through a child’s perspective when a teacher chooses someone selectively for a play, a dance, a responsibility or any other important opportunity. Classroom jealousy and resentment is a pit which every teacher must take care to avoid. It can be dangerously impressionable on the young mind.

When you need a quick job, or someone reliable for the school play, a disciplined class monitor, or just a helping hand – there’s always an option. The one unfailingly impeccable student. Someone you’ve picked so many times that she/he now arrogantly towers over his/her peers. Other children will be left undiscovered, saddened by the fact that you never felt they were good enough.

Vandini-Sharma-2 Unquestioningly, it will take you a lot more time, more effort, even a trigger of impatience until you reach somewhere with such unnoticeable students. Though your decisions may seem small, ponder over this through a child’s eyes. These are opportunities they can treasure later, make memories from, if only you present them the chance.

Taking on another common peril in the classroom, misbehaviour is a regrettably present everywhere. It is a hurdle which crops up in every teacher’s career. However, here it will be a mistake to call out and shame the student in front of the whole class. Far from bettering their behavior, such an approach will only cause mistrust and hurt for the student, and likely ruin their relationship with the teacher forever.

I recall something beautiful that my French Sir once said, ‘Significant teaching doesn’t arrive without a significant relationship.’

It all comes down to the environment one is allowed to blossom in. It depends on whether you can preserve the lightness and freshness so that children don’t go scurrying to their seats in fear, the moment your arrival is announced.

In the end, no one can pin down teaching as an easy occupation. One decides how childhood will be remembered. It is a choice between being remembered as bitter and curt, or a kind hearted guide. Certainly most teachers would like to choose the latter.

Wouldn’t you?

The author is a 14 year old writer. She has been published in various magazines & participates in fiction contests. She hopes to be a successful novelist and write books which will entertain and inspire people. She can be reached at vandini300@gmail.com.