Cecilia Lemos’s latest blog post “Why do we take it so personally?” really resonates with me.
She writes about how we are aware of the fact that we only play a part in a student’s success yet we feel WE are to blame when the student does not succeed. Cecilia says: “ Why do we take it so personally – and only on a negative side for us??”
I wish I had the answer to that question!
Over the years I have discussed it countless times with a colleague who has been teaching the same pupils I do for just as long (but does not teach English).
Here are a few insights that have come up over the years. Sometimes they make me feel better, sometimes they don’t.
You pay a price either way. Obviously “beating yourself over the head” is bad for your teaching, for your health and for your family. You are human and there is only so much one person can do, no matter how good the intentions are. If you only look at the things that have gone wrong you won’t have the strength for all the things you do so well that help so many students.
On the other hand, if your attitude is: “I know I have worked hard preparing the lessons. If someone still fails, it isn’t related to me”, then you risk being frozen into certain patterns of teaching that you stick to. You miss out on the intense reflection that can come out of true frustration. That’s when you may decide to try something radically different in class or start calling the student’s parents often. Or who knows what else. Sometimes that does the trick.
And sometimes, nothing does the trick. In fact, the real trick is to know how long to agonize about what you haven’t tried before flipping the TURN OFF switch and moving to “I’VE DONE MY BEST” mode. I wish I could say I control this switch well because I have some students whom, despite my sincere efforts, are not going to get a passing grade on the finals they just took. I tried to skim over, to bridge the abyss between what they know to what they need to know for the exam but the abyss is too big.
The best way to activate this “switch” is to hash out your feelings with someone who knows the pupils. They can remind you of the reality of the issues outside of your control which are influencing this pupil and help you regain perspective.
Just like we tell our pupils, when you feel distressed – talk about it!