A teacher’s voice:
As a pre-service teacher, I learned a lot about the importance of relationships with students and for them to have a sense of belonging in a classroom and school community. At a workshop for beginning teachers, a Deputy Principal told a story about how he had a jar of Minties (sweets) on his desk and any child who had a birthday could come and get one. He explained that it wasn’t about the lolly it was about building a relationship with the students. I decided to try this out in my classroom and had a lollipop jar in my classroom for birthdays.
One day I was a bit behind giving out lollipops, so I gave a birthday lollipop to students who had missed out. One student wanted a lollipop despite it not being her birthday for several months, so I said, ‘well no, you can’t have a lollipop now, but you will get one when it is your birthday’. She was adamant — ‘I want one!’
I was unaware at the time that one of the other students had given their lollipop to someone else, so this girl asked, ‘why does he have a lollipop when it’s not his birthday?’ I explained that I didn’t give that child a lollipop and that someone else must have given it to him.
That afternoon the student’s mum came in to see me to inquire about why her daughter didn’t get a lollipop. I explained the process and the mum started questioning me as to why other children received lollipops when it wasn’t their birthday, while her daughter could not have a lollipop, and why there was not a consequence for the student that gave their lollipop away. I said, ‘I have no control over what the children do with their lollipops once I hand them out but I only give lollipops to children when it is their birthday’.
The next morning this student’s mother approached me. She said, ‘I’ve got something that I need to share with you’. At first, it seemed like something exciting — something positive. The mum then launched into a discussion about how her daughter’s behaviour had changed for the worse, and that it was all my fault. Apparently, a catalyst was this lollipop incident, but essentially I was the cause of her daughter’s increasingly defiant behaviour.
I was thinking, ‘bloody lollipops — why do I even bother?’ I was shocked and disappointed because I had had a reasonable relationship with this mother and she had been supportive of me in my work with her daughter. The way the mother spoke to me in front of her daughter undermined my relationship with my student and my authority in the classroom. Now I just feel stressed and overly cautious not to upset her child. I am distancing myself from my student so that the mum doesn’t come back with more complaints. I’m obviously worried too much about what people think.
The issue that stands out in this story is that teachers are usually worried about ‘what people think’ because their practice is closely examined by students, parents, administrators, governing bodies as well as the general public. The scrutiny that teachers face can potentially impact a teacher’s wellbeing and their ability to do their job (McCallum 2014). The teacher was left feeling inhibited, and the teacher-student relationship was undermined.
Everyone that has attended school has an idea of what school is like from a student’s perspective, and armed with that knowledge, makes sense of school experiences through that lens. It is a false apprenticeship (Bullock 2013). Would we expect a medical patient to know how to perform an appendectomy after having undergone one? One could argue that a medical patient would be unconscious while undergoing surgery but students cannot either be fully conscious of what teachers do and why they do it. Teaching is a complex business that takes years to get a handle on — and even still the grip can be slippery.
Bullock, SM 2013, ‘Learning to teach and the false apprenticeship: emotion and identity development during the field experience placement’, in M Newberry, A Gallant, P Riley & S Pinnegar (eds), Emotion in Schools: Understanding How the Hidden Curriculum Influences Relationships, Leadership, Teaching, and Learning, Emerald, United Kingdom.
McCallum, F & Price, D 2012, ‘Keeping teacher wellbeing on the agenda’, Professional Educator, vol. 11, no. 2, pp. 4-7.