A teacher’s voice:
I belong to a racial minority, am female and come from a low socioeconomic background. I have had to fight hard against discrimination and under-privilege to become a teacher.
One day I was sitting in an assembly and the grade four, five and six students were singing a song. The song was about respect. The students were singing with enthusiasm and passion about how important it is to respect people no matter their race, gender, sexuality, class and that we are all sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers — we are all family.
Our school community is diverse; for example, it is a co-educational school, the privileged are represented as much as the underprivileged, and at least 30 different races are represented. To me, the melting pot of humankind was on stage recognising some of the injustices of the world and by doing so potentially changing the future. The students felt what they were singing, it meant something to them, and I felt it too.
Little tears began to well in the corner of my eye. They were tears of joy and sadness. Sadness that these injustices were not always recognised when I was at school but joy that they were recognised now. It was like an apology from the world. I felt proud of our young people and hopeful for the future. I felt joy for the students in the school that they might be able to surge ahead with less of a fight amongst an embracing community. A community that says it is not acceptable to exclude and put down someone because of their gender, their skin colour, their religious beliefs, who they are attracted to, their stutter, or the brands of their clothes.
I wanted to weep but I fought it back. I looked away and swallowed it all down. But it was one of the most poignant moments of my teaching career.
I felt this story was important to share early on in the life of teacherSTORY. I would imagine most teachers have a ‘poignant’ moment or two in their careers. I can also imagine that the moment might be charged with a myriad of emotions. In this story the teacher talks about sadness, joy and pride. Emotion is typically felt in clusters and pleasure and unpleasure often go hand in hand. I prefer to talk about emotion as pleasurable or unpleasuareble because labelling emotion as positive or negative gives the impression that some emotions are good and others are bad. For example, experiencing fear might not feel that great but fear can protect you by alerting you to danger. Likewise, enthusiasm could feel great but overenthusiasm can also hinder.
The teacher’s emotions served a purpose — they helped the teacher make sense of their world and come to understand something about themselves and the students they teach. So why did the teacher feel they had to keep their tears hidden? Is it because teachers are only allowed to show certain feelings? There is literature that suggests this to be the case. If the teacher did not swallow back their tears, what then? Would it have been so bad for the teacher to show their students and the community that they feel things and that they have empathy? As teachers we want our students to be able to express their feelings — for this to happen they need to be able to see it in action.
I am not suggesting that teachers should rage, wail or enthuse excessively but to express their humanity. Teachers cannot constantly remain emotionally neutral, and an attempt to do so would be considered detrimental to their wellbeing.