Author and English teacher Tania Roxborogh has today shared her reflections on being a teacher with her English teaching colleagues on their listserve.
This really resonated with me both as an educator and a mum and thought it might be the same for many of you, so I made contact with Tania and she has kindly given me permission to post it here for you all to read.
It reminds me that part of learning is repeatedly wrestling with information and often feeling like you’re beating your head against a brick wall. Maybe teachers are the ladder over that brick wall. This is reinforced for me as I embark on this year’s Tertiary Prep Programme.
What My Students Need From Me – a Self-Reflection
Confession from a returning soldier teacher:
Yesterday, I got close to losing my temper at a class. For the millionth time, I had to explain again an instruction that was:
a) contained in their handout
b) up on the board
c) in a message home to the parents
I was really frustrated. Couldn’t they just pay attention? Couldn’t they just read/check it for themselves? Couldn’t they be grateful at how awesome I was as their teacher to be providing them with this awesome task using all the correct pedagogical tools that make the work relevant, help with different learning styles and needs…?
I talked the day over with my pōtiki, the one who had us up at nights, who slammed doors and screamed at us for being horrible parents. And who is now back living with us, happily having these kind of conversations because (apparently) we’ve learned from her and are the best parents ever.
‘Mum, just be like you were with me.’ For a moment, a Vietnam flashback of those teenage years threatened to send me to bed with a headache but my daughter continued. ‘I knew that you would never ever give way with me. You never gave up. No matter how bad or sad or sick I was. Be like that for them. Be their wall to knock against. You once told me that the world of school is a hard place and I could come home and let it all out cos I was safe. Maybe they are asking and complaining because you make them feel safe.’
Once I got over the surprise at my 20 year old’s wisdom, I sat back and thought: yeah, they are fourteen. Who’d want to be fourteen. Keep being kind. Keep being patient even to the smart-alec kid who likes to take pot shots at me.
What they really need is for me to LET THEM ask (again), tell me they don’t understand, complain that it’s too hard.
As much as it nuts me out, my time in the trenches of student-ville (see what I’m doing here) have taught me that if I couldn’t get it the first time, or the next, and what I needed then was my lecturer to have the patience of Gandhi (am I pushing the metaphor too wide?), and, because I knew my lecturer would always answer my questions (again and again), I sought help more and I learned, even if those around me caught on quicker.
Telling them I already know the stuff and that they need to is unfair and a bit unkind. Telling them I know the stuff and why it’s good to know it is more helpful.