Lesson 23 on the Importance of Saving Face
I’ve lived and worked through changing times. In some respects change was at warp speed. In others it was snail’s pace and even soul destroying, as the same problems circled around and around.
An old teacher, at his leaving do, expressed it thus:
I feel as though I’ve been sitting on a rock in the middle of a whirlpool. A new idea or scheme floats past, then for a few years it bobs up and down, till eventually it sinks out of sight. All of a sudden it appears back on the surface again, a bit mangled, but still going around there with all the new debris.
Some years after I started teaching it ceased to be legal for teachers to physically chastise pupils, though it was still felt perfectly right and proper for parents to do so. When your infant started loudly misbehaving in the shops, the surrounding adults smiled approvingly if you gave him a quick clip. They did not whip out their iPhones to contact social services.
In class, particularly at primary level, teachers often itched to be able to reach over and tap a small hand firmly as it destroyed some other child’s handiwork or smeared poster paint over its clothing. But such maternal reactions were now forbidden.
One day I was particularly stressed and the group I was teaching, sensing this, slipped effortlessly into wind up mode. A lot of schooling is boring, so any bit of fun is welcome. Winding up teacher is malicious only when there is ill-feeling involved, most of the time it is just for entertainment purposes.
On this day they were succeeding magnificently. Mandy especially was being difficult and uncooperative. She was a big, ungainly girl who was always in trouble. She towered over her classmates, so that attention was inevitably drawn to her in any playground altercation. In class she was always squashed uncomfortably into her chair at an awkward angle. She was generally having a bad time.
I was standing in front of her with my hands on her table, as I did my best fierce teacher act in a last desperate attempt to get her to basically do some work, so I could get on with whatever it was that was stressing me out. As I vainly raged at her, she suddenly just laid her head down on my hands and said out loud
“Oh Miss, I wish you were my mother!”
I replied with pure instinct, from the heart.
“I wish I was your mother too, because then I could hit you!”
We all reverted into laughter, tension dispersed and good humour was restored. Mandy’s raw misery was politely sidestepped, and suddenly it was easy to get on with our work.
Groups, like people, are funny things. They get bad-tempered and fall out, but when they remember they like each other, they rally round to support and comfort.