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Teaching Trials

Staying Calm in the Face of Great Stress

Petty Triumph

When you first become a teacher, people tell you that you have to stay calm at all times. 

'It won't get you anywhere to get angry' they say. 

Which is true, it won't. But teachers are still human beings, and trainee teachers are closer to being an average human than other teachers, so whilst your colleagues, friends and family (most of whom have no idea what you go through day to day) lecture you on being the bigger person, you will naturally struggle with a few key things. 

Not swearing when a child swears at you. 

Not crying out of frustration when they're really bothersome. 

Not mimicking little year sevens who still talk in babyish tones. 

And above all... not getting into an argument with a 14 year old. 

Because 14 is just that age, where a student will feel like they're the biggest and baddest in the whole school. Year 10, usually, where GCSE's aren't quite yet, but they're still older than most of the other children, and they feel the need for a bit of rebellion because this is their school and who are you, as a teacher, to take that power from them? 

Now, I am not here to tell you how perfect I am. I have done all of the above things. I have told a class to sit down and shut the hell up, and had them use the same phrase to me for a week afterwards, just to prove that if I can say it to them, they can and will say it back to me. I have made a few small children cry because I innocently mocked their hobbies, thinking they were being sarcastic. I have cried because of a class (although thankfully never in front of them), and I have gone home wearily after a long day at school and looked back on how that one student managed to get me to argue back like a five year old, and what I should have done better. 

What I would like to share is my success. One recent day that I feel proud of, and the changes I have made as a result, and how they have worked for me. Recently I had a 'problem' student, as many a teacher might call them, accuse me of unfair treatment. Naturally, I hope you will give me the benefit of the doubt when I tell you that most certainly was not the case. In fact, I pride myself on my logical and fair judgement of the students in my classroom. 

Now, I could have gotten very panicky and very stressed for how this would have affected other students' views of me, and whilst at the time I would have felt better, it would have made the situation a thousand times worse. The other students would see me as defensive and begin to wonder if I was being unfair and trying to justify it. 

Instead, I reminded myself that this was a 14 year old child, who had no right to question my methods and the extensive education and training I had gone through to get to where I was. So I did what I thought was best at the time. 

I ignored her. 

And when she started to shout at me, I ignored her some more. 

And when she came and stood right in my face, I ignored her still. 

And eventually...the rest of the class rallied. They could see her getting frustrated, irrational even. They could hear her threatening to shove me or walk out of the classroom or throw things. They could hear her threatening their education by disrupting their lesson.  And they told her to pipe down or leave. 

I was stunned, I have to say. Every teacher likes to think their students like them. Most of us know that isn't really true and our students wouldn't care if we were there one day or gone the next. But what I appreciated was hearing my pupils stand up for not only me, but for themselves and their education, because it showed something I have been trying to instil in them for months; it showed a sense of responsibility for their learning and it showed they could be selfish at the right time. They weren't thinking of their friend, the wailing wonder at the front of the room pitching a hissy fit over not being asked a question. They were thinking of their grades and their future and how one lesson could mean the difference between an A and a B. 

That is what I am proud to have instilled. 

That is why I strive to stay calm when a student gets difficult. 

Because nothing is more entertaining than watching a kid show themselves up as irrational and irritating to 30 of their closest peers. 

Petty? Maybe. But in teaching, the small victories are the best. 

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