Today, I had a hospital appointment. Nothing serious…but it’s not exactly my favourite place and I was forced to miss the first afternoon of school after the October holiday and INSET, which wasn’t ideal. Still, once I’d powered through the morning lessons and sung a few rounds of Queen’s ‘The Show Must Go On’, I was ready to brave the airport-like abyss of waiting rooms and waiting patients, even managing to sound relatively cheery.
The middle-aged, chubby blonde at reception looked at me like I was something I stepped in, and barely managed to grunt. Her manner, tone of voice and facial expressions all told me that she’d rather be scrubbing dog shit from her kid’s shoes than speaking to me.
Could I be being over-sensitive? Sure. Could this woman just be having a bad day? Of course. Could she just be a miserable bitch? Well she wouldn’t be the first working on patient reception right?! Whatever the reason though, it’s just not good enough. It would be poor enough to act like this if you worked in a shop, but in a hospital where your ‘customers’ are the sick, vulnerable and often ‘bloody miserable’, it’s just awful.
That woman was one of four people that I spoke to in the afternoon and it has to be said that the others were terrific, but as I left, I couldn’t help but picture that horrible woman’s face and it really made me thing about the unknown, interminable impact we have on others simply by the way we carry ourselves.
As a hospital patient, an experience like this might simply serve as a reminder that you don’t like being in hospitals. In the classroom, treating students like this has to potential to put them off a topic, a teacher or school in general.
I speak from experience here. My high school Geography teacher was the most unpleasant, cold man. A real ‘bully’ in every sense of the word, and someone that clearly had no time, patience or like for children. I was incredibly hardworking as a student, but also ridiculously shy, and the thought of this teacher’s regular humiliation routines sent my anxiety into overdrive. I hated him, and therefore, I hated Geography, which is why I chose History as my year 9 option. As it happened, I ended up falling in love with History, but who knows what might have been if my teacher had been a little warmer in his approach. That’s the power that we have as educators.
And let me remind you that I was a grade-A swot in school with parents who really cared about me and my education. Imagine what this sort of negative student-teacher relationship would do to a child who had less-than supportive parents; a child who already had a negative attitude towards learning; a child who was lower-ability or had special needs. Who knows what impact this same situation might have on their attitude towards themselves, the subject, the school? Who knows how this might effect the choices that they make when it comes to choosing subjects or going to college?
Speaking from the other side I can say, yes – I get it – teaching these days is laden with bullshit. And we definitely have some complaints that deserve listening to…
But never let this contempt or misery break into the sacred realm of the classroom. There, we need patience and warmth and kindness. Just as a good parent puts the needs of their child above their own; so too must educators shelve their bad moods and put on a happy face for those they teach. Because at the end of the day, people don’t learn anything from people they don’t like.
Your students will probably still complain sometimes that they’re rubbish at X, Y or Z; that they hate school; that’s it’s all just too hard and terrible and oh so dramatic; but at least you’ll know that it’s not because their teacher presented it in a way that made them feel small, or stupid, disliked or unwelcome. It’s just the topic that’s crap!