A few weeks ago, I decided to have a very grown up conversation with my class during a PSHE lesson. I asked them to be honest with me so that I could be honest with them.
It ended up with me admitting that I get scared in school sometimes. Twenty seven little faces looked back at me aghast. I was the adult in charge of the classroom and they had this image of me being brave and in control all of the time. I’d shattered that image of superhero status and mutterings of “wow” or “I didn’t know that” echoed in the room. (Apparently I’m Oscar worthy when it comes to putting on a brave face.)
I’m not afraid to admit being scared to adults, or children. I openly admit that I am human. I am not Mary Poppins, despite my calm, patient exterior. Inside…I’m flapping around like a neurotic maniac in a potential apocalypse situation. Most days, I can’t predict what is going to happen next in my classroom. I don’t know if the situation is going to end up with an ambulance and blood splattered displays or a calm, obedient performance of a simple instruction. I have to go with the flow. I’m not usually someone who deals with spontaneity very well. I like to plan, prepare and follow through. I don’t mind things changing along the way, but if something happens that I can’t possibly plan for, then it certainly gets to me in quite a big way.
Sometimes, it might be a quick outburst from his lordship and we move on. Other times it involves evacuations and children running through school for help from higher powers. I’ve learned to develop coping mechanisms along the way that allow me to appear unphased and in control. Usually, it’s counting in ones, sometimes up to fifty, breathing in and out between each number. Sighing, I have come to realise, is a frequent response when I’m trying to compose myself. My huffing and puffing can give that Big, Bad Wolf a run for his money. Sometimes, it’s involuntary and I catch myself doing it without realising. I try to make a mental note to find a different way to release my frustrations, annoyances or exasperations. However, I fear that my only other option would be to swear violently and that’s probably not the best idea when you work in a primary school – full of children who hear far too much of that kind of language at home.
I asked my children “How do you feel when he isn’t making ‘smart choices’ in the classroom?” Smart choices is our code for right choices. I never like to say “you’re making the wrong choices” and always cringed when I found myself saying it, or something similar, last year. I would remind myself to spin it and say “please try to make the right choices” but in the heat of the moment, you forget and it’s not always said to his lordship. It is more often than not, said to other children, who know better and can show me better. I spent a lot of time retraining my brain in order to turn this phrase into a habit. On our move up day, last summer, we came up with smart choices instead of right or wrong choices. The children decided that smart choices would be the right choices and the choices we make to ‘be the best we can be.’ The children own it like it’s theirs because it is theirs. It’s one of their chosen class rules. (And I’m always hearing them say “make smart choices…” to each other, which is so sweet and heart melting.)
Anyway, how did they feel? Scared, worried, annoyed, irritated, concerned for his safety and the safety of the other children in our class. I knew that they felt scared but wanted them all to acknowledge it. I had a gut feeling that they didn’t realise that every other child in the class was feeling scared too. They certainly had no idea that I felt scared when I told them. They all looked at me aghast. How could I, the teacher, be scared in those situations? I was very honest with them and explained that I knew the dangers in those situations, and the thought of one of them getting hurt, accidentally or intentionally, by him was by biggest fear in school. I explained that being frightened, is a natural response to some situations, but the way you work with that fear is what is important. It’s okay to be scared sometimes, one day you will learn how to understand why you feel scared and how to keep calm in these situations. Unfortunately, it’s not something you can necessarily learn from a teacher, you sort of have to discover it by yourself. Sure I’m trying to model how to be brave, but in my own mind, I’m not being brave, I’m just trying to keep calm and cope with the situation in front of me.
At the end of this 20 minute discussion, before lunch, I asked the children whether they had any questions they wanted to ask me. Most of them were, “Could I go to the toilet?”, “Could I get a drink of water?”, “What’s for lunch today?” Until one child asked a question that I was not entirely prepared for: “What makes you cry in school?” I’d been incredibly honest with them up until this point, so I wasn’t about to avoid the truth now. Explaining, that when I get very angry, I cry…because I don’t like the feeling that it gives me inside. She just nodded her head. Either she understood what I was saying and was nodding her head in agreement or she was nodding in acknowledgement that, just as she suspected, her teacher is a little bit weird. Most likely the latter. I’ll let her off though, seeing as she is such a lovely, cheeky character in the class. Honestly, I don’t know what I would do, on those nightmare days, without her in the class to remind me that, in her eyes at least, I am the best teacher in the whole wide world.