“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
This is what a colleague once said to me. “You can show them. You’re really good at your job and you really care. Anyone with half a brain cell can see that you went into this job for the right reasons.” So, I wondered, what wrong reasons would anyone become a teacher? Status, power, money, or something else unthinkable and terribly insidious? The mind boggles. I also found the idea of ‘us’ and ‘them’ problematic. In my own little idealistic utopia power dynamics don’t exist and all parties are equal. A moral purpose to improve the life chances of all children, irrespective of background, is what drove me to be a teacher, plus a desire to open minds and share the wider world with children, to inspire them to adventure, inquire and spread wings.
Resilience: the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness; flexibility; adaptability.
Personally, I feel this word is thrown around a little too freely in several walks of life, because at what point should we decide that the difficulty faced constitutes manipulation, coercion, bullying, or even abuse? In those circumstances, isn’t it better and preferential for one’s wellbeing to find the resilience to walk away and start afresh? Or, to tell somebody about the difficulty and seek help? Then, surely, it is easier for the individual to move on. A destructive power dynamic can never be one in which resilience blossoms.
For example, I once had the privilege of tutoring a boy who exhibited significant anxiety; his GP acknowledged this and as his tutor, I did as much as I could within the school systems to help him to manage transitions throughout the school day, which involved chatting with him 1:1 at least once a day, him knowing he could drop by and speak with me at lunchtime, being able to access the ‘nurture’ space at least once a week and me speaking with our head of house to enable him to leave lessons five minutes early. It’s possible that some of my colleagues may have seen this as him being manipulative or being a hindrance to him developing resilience. Whilst I could see their rationale, I also knew of other children who had previously become school refusers when such supportive strategies hadn’t put in place. Leaving a lesson five minutes early was initially far better than spending whole days either at home or in student support. I felt it was much more helpful to have an ongoing dialogue with the child and his parents, so that he might gradually build up to being fully able to follow the same timetable as the majority.
This was especially needed for his PE lessons: he hated PE and didn’t want to change with the other boys because others would tease him and it was clear that some of the treatment he was receiving was homophobic. So what if he wasn’t the best football player? Taking part was the most important, but I recognise that on occasions, children can be cruel and this was affecting his self-esteem. This caused panic attacks and he would often not wish to come into school. For at least four weeks, he had a doctor’s appointment or would have sprained his wrist or ankle, so that he did not have to do PE. On the one hand, some might again see his parents as trying to ensure he could miss PE, but just by making sure he was able to change alone was a small concession to enable this child to access his PE lessons. Rather than seeing the child as lacking in resilience, I really admired him for having the courage to tell us what was going on and let us help him to be able to reinforce the resilience he was starting to show.
In a small proportion of my experience, the need to grow and encourage resilience seems to give a minority the right to treat others, both colleagues and students with impartial disdain and disrespect, especially those over whom they exert power. Perhaps I could have taken the option of forcing the child above to just carry on regardless and it may have worked. However, I felt much happier enabling resilience rather than taking the risk of pushing him over the edge and the possibility of causing him to become disengaged completely.
Furthermore, what exactly constitutes a ‘difficulty’? On the one hand, does this refer to events that happen in our professional, or personal life, or both? The example above was personal for the child, but professional for me. Fortunately, I had colleagues I could ask for help to support the child above and we were all resilient.
What happens for adults when difficulties faced are multiple in both the personal and professional spheres? Or, when personal difficulties impact on our profession life, or even create problems in our professional life? Do we ignore the personal to protect the professional? Or…is it then time to hang up the towel and give up? Should we do the right thing and move aside for fresh, younger blood who have fewer responsibilities and baggage? At what point does our expense as a teacher outweigh our occasional need for support when slight cracks appear in resilience?
I have not yet worked out the answers to those last questions, but I am resilient in trying to deal with all of them. On that journey, if I am found wanting in any capacity, I can never say that I haven’t tried. During these uncertain times of COVID-19, we should all appreciate the little things and it has made me think that resilience is the very essence of life; it is that vigorous, energetic and spontaneous breath that fuels our immunity and keeps us alive. What helps us on this journey is the team around us.
With regard to this final idea of team resilience, I recall this image: geese fly in a V-formation; when the leader tires, another takes over at the front of the group and keeps up the momentum. It is my firm belief that no matter what, resilience should be a collective, team effort and nobody should be allowed to fall from the sky. There is such a thing as society and resilience is strongest when members have mutual trust, respect and they are collectively united in a common purpose.
At the end of the rainbow, the horizon is bright and filled with clear air.