Teaching is Traumatic
And I'm not sure how we got onto it, but I started expounding on my 'teaching is traumatic' theory.
Summer recounts her reaction to this in a blog post, which I will quote at length here:
"When I first heard this statement, I had a physiological reaction. Maybe it was because I was tired, or maybe it struck a real chord as I’ve been working with pre-service and new teachers who I have watched struggle with fatigue and frustration, and I remember this as I feel that I finally found my groove this year. Teaching is Traumatic in many ways, it’s true. Our job is pretty high pressure and high stakes. Trauma reminds me of hospitals, and if you think about it school admin is much like the emergency ward. You can make a list of things to get done, but an incident may happen, or something needs you swiftly, and this means everything stops and all focus is on this unexpected event. It means lots of the creative, and the ‘to do’ work is done late into the night, into the weekends. We are dealing with raw human, heightened emotion every day."
How apt is that? That "school admin is much like the emergency ward"? There is a triage process where you decide which 5 out of the 100 things you wish to achieve will actually get done in your available 15 minutes.
The greatest layer of brutalisation, in my opinion, is the 'classroom management' paradigm, where 1 adult teacher is given 1 alotment of territory with 1 group of students, for 1 year at a time.
Tell me that doesn't sound like the premise for a Big Brother reality TV show?
This scene from Summer Heights High sums it all up for me:
Teachers will recognise it as excruciatingly close to the bone. What does anyone expect will happen? It's the school machine that brutalises teachers and students alike.
Many students emerge from the machine with subtle scarring that is still identifiable decades later. I've noticed it emerges at dinner parties when strangers discover I am a languages teacher. Invariably this triggers a reversion and they recount how they "Made their French teacher cry once." They've not re-processed this event properly since reaching adulthood. All they remember is the moment of triumph where they stuck it to THE MAN (or woman).
It's human nature to kick against confinement.
Teaching is traumatic.
In their first and second years of teaching, teachers settle on coping mechanisms and classroom tactics that somehow WORK to allow them to survive. For some this means repeatedly nagging the kids into submission, reacting to nothing and tolerating very high levels of chaos, as if resigned to a perpetual tug of war over every little detail. Others climb and conquer Mount Classroom Management. Hardly a victory, to my mind, because order was never the litmus test for learning. (See www.anarchyinlearning.com for the counter-example... high disorder + high organic learning, but disorder does not equal chaos).
So teachers find a way to cope. They define their own status quo.
But they earned it at a cost. They survived their first years with tears.
They cry at their desks. They go home and sleep 14 hours Friday evening and don't want to go out all weekend. They get grumpy at their loved ones and then feel like rats. I say they, and I mean me too, although for me, personally, it was a feeling like I had 'lost myself' somewhere in the day. It was all numbness.
Summer's blog post continues as an unfolding story of shifting from survival mode to thrive mode.
Her post deserves a close read to track the dynamics of the shift. Look at her vocabulary. It invokes the language of journey, of community, of connection, of meaning.
I, too, found a path through, assisted greatly by online connections, wonderful, loving colleagues at my school, and a paradigm shift that has only intensified each year I have worked from 'school as a machine' to 'school as a village'.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic and your own journey.
Also, watch this space. I'm working very hard this very moment to put together an online mentoring program for 2012 designed to stare these issues directly in the eye.
I am thinking it will:
- be spaced out over 6 months to allow slow, genuine growth.
- be accessible at multiple, flexible times via videoconferencing, and available worldwide.
- be modularised so people can dip in and out as suits the rhythm of their lives.
- mash up direct advice, and critical thinking, and small-group communities to share a journey together.
- confront all the faultlines we have to navigate, from school politics, to educational philosophy, to inner growth, to workflow and information management.
- aim to nurture a savvy, resilient, leadership-orientated mindset that will stand colleagues in good stead for years to come, across multiple scenarios.
I'll announce the details very soon. It will be a 'SCIL' thing, not something I am doing privately. I wonder if the idea appeals? I'd appreciate your thoughts as always.