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Living Loz
4th-Dec-2012 07:11 am
Loz Cola
How do people develop a thick skin? Because I've been through a fair amount in my life, lived in a couple of challenging places, and yet I still feel weak and fragile.

A long, long while back, I wrote about a student of mine getting excluded to another school. Well, he came back this term and at first things were almost okay, but then all of his old behaviours started up again. He doesn't do what I ask him to do, he runs out of class, he doesn't attempt a smidgen of work, he hits children during break, he's decided one of the other students in my class is his mortal enemy. Apparently, his mother has been saying to him "you only have her for another two weeks, you don't have to listen."

And I know all of this about him, you know? I know he can be rude and defiant and his mother has many, many issues and for reasons I don't know has heavily taken against me. I cannot think of what I have said or done to make her hate me so much.

I thought I was relatively disaffected. I thought I was over caring. But no, I've just awoken from a night of endless bad dreams of me being considered the worst teacher of all time. Feeling like a failure. Worrying about how I'll do next year if students and parents decide they hate me?

Why do I always remember the two kids I've never got through to instead of the twenty-four I have?
3rd-Dec-2012 08:44 pm (UTC)
One of the hardest things about being a teacher is dealing with people and their bullshit.

It helps to remember that 2% of the population is sociopathic. Law of averages says that every teacher will see a few.

It's not them, it's you. I know that sounds facile, but it's the truth.

I've found I've grown a thicker skin over the years. It's still not always easy, but after 15 years it is better. So hang in there!
4th-Dec-2012 09:35 am (UTC)
♥ Thank you!
3rd-Dec-2012 08:54 pm (UTC)
Because you're a good teacher and you want all your children to learn and benefit from their education.

Keep saying to yourself that he will soon be someone else's problem.
4th-Dec-2012 09:32 am (UTC)

Thank you!
3rd-Dec-2012 08:58 pm (UTC)

Because you're human?

It's pretty standard, for instance, for anyone engaged in a creative activity to pay a lot more attention and remember far longer a negative review as opposed to their positive reviews, even if they've had hundreds of positive reviews.

Developmental psychologists argue that it's a residual leftover from how we learn to avoid doing ourselves harm but knowing that doesn't really make it any easier to deal with.

If you examine the situation honestly and realize there's nothing you could have done to effect the outcome, pretty obviously the case here, then just try to let it go as much as you can and stop beating yourself up on top of what's already an unpleasant experience to live through.
4th-Dec-2012 09:31 am (UTC)
Draaayce, I hate being human. I would have thought this was obvious by now. *sigh*

Thank you ♥
4th-Dec-2012 12:02 pm (UTC)

*rolls up sleeves* I'm going to need a lab coat, a big echo-y lab and some platypus DNA...

What? I was going to get a biochemistry degree, I can do it.
3rd-Dec-2012 09:31 pm (UTC)
Just from the snapshot you give, it sounds as if the mother had already done a fair amount of damage before you and the kid ever met. I can quite understand why you'd want to be able to help him, but clearly you're not the only one who's finding it difficult - in which case you need to give yourself a break and acknowledge that sometimes it's quite acceptable to fail. You don't have to like it, but you really can't expect yourself to solve all the world's problems at once!
4th-Dec-2012 09:31 am (UTC)
You're right --- and the student, S, he has a long history of these kinds of behaviours. When I was his age, I was in Year 6. He's in year 3. But this year, what with added expectations and everyone around him getting stuff he doesn't get, he's really escalated his negative behaviours.

But the thing is? I have worked on giving him as much one-on-one support as possible on tasks that are at his ability level but still linked to what everyone is studying. He wouldn't work with the school services officer. He constantly causes disruptions so he won't have to work with me.

And yes, a lot of it is to do with his mother. :/
3rd-Dec-2012 10:52 pm (UTC)
I think you either have a thick skin or you don't and it's pretty impossible to develop one once you're grown up. Matt is super-sensitive -- much more so than me -- and I've had to learn to be much more careful in the things I say (coming as I do from a family who disregard all criticism very easily). (And my family think I'm "too sensitive", which gives you an idea of the gulf between them and Matt.)

Feeling like a failure, worrying about next year, taking it to heart -- all signs that you're a good person and a good teacher and that you're striving to improve yourself. If you had a thick skin you wouldn't give a shit and you'd ultimately be a less awesome person. So there!

To put it another way, the best musicians are the ones who think they're rubbish and want to improve. The worst ones are the ones who think they're fine and thus have no incentive to work (even when someone, eg a long-suffering piano teacher, is right there to show them all the different ways they're rubbish).

To sum up: love you!
4th-Dec-2012 09:26 am (UTC)
I think you either have a thick skin or you don't and it's pretty impossible to develop one once you're grown up.

Damn, really? Well, then. I'm shit outta luck. I am a pretty sensitive soul --- even about things I tell myself, rationally, I shouldn't be. The rational side of me can be perfectly detached and sane and my unconscious, neurotic side will fuck me right up. :/

I love you tooo!
3rd-Dec-2012 11:26 pm (UTC)
I've worked in customer service for about 10 years, and while some days I still have to go cry in the bathroom at work, I have found the best way to not let stuff get to you is to remember that it is not about you personally. I imagine as a teacher it's a bit the same. It sounds like this kid's mother has issues that have nothing to do with you, and honestly (as I remember from the year I taught violin to young children when I was 16) if there is no discipline at home, there is little hope you can discipline that kid at school and that is not your fault.

The main problem is you actually care about being a good teacher, and that makes it hard to let go when you just can't seem to help some kids, but the reasons for that are not your fault!
4th-Dec-2012 09:22 am (UTC)
It's hard with teaching primary/elementary school not to take things personally, because you're with those kids the majority of the day.

Thank you ♥
4th-Dec-2012 12:01 am (UTC)
That does sound difficult. I think part of the reason you feel so bad about this is that you care about the kids, which is a really good thing you don't want to lose, but part of it is that it sounds like you tend to think of things in terms of "What did I do to cause this and what should I do to fix it?" Taking personal responsibility is good for things you're actually responsible for, but when it comes to things where you have neither the responsibility for causing it nor the ability to fix it, that adds more stress. You didn't cause the kid's issues or his mother's, and as long as the mother's being so antagonistic, you don't have the power to improve the situation. (If the mother had been cooperative, you probably could have helped the kid to an extent, which has to make things harder, because you almost have the power to fix things, but you honestly can't get the mother to change unless she wants to, and she doesn't.)

I'm guessing that his mother has taken against you for reasons that are more about her than you. She might be annoyed because it sounds like you were starting to get through at one point, which makes her look bad for not stopping him from acting like that. Or if she's getting behavior reports about the hitting and stuff, she could be mad at you because she sees you as the cause of the reports. Really, it's just as likely to be something completely arbitrary and unfair as anything else.

I've heard about many bad teachers (I'm bad at teaching myself in a fairly well-intentioned "Everyone has fun and is treated fairly, but almost no one learns the actual information" way, which is one reason I avoid work that involves teaching), and you're clearly a very good teacher.
4th-Dec-2012 09:21 am (UTC)
Thanks so much for this comment. I do know I shouldn't take personal responsibility for things like this on a conscious level, but my unconscious mind doesn't appear to care about that.

S's mother has long been known to have issues. She sets him up for more failure than he needs. Because he could learn. He's not wholly incapable.
4th-Dec-2012 01:00 pm (UTC)
That's the trouble with brains. Even when you've sat down and rationally worked out a perfectly healthy attitude, some lingering part can still spring up and shower you with irrational guilt or some other such unpleasantness.

Yeah, it sounds like the kid has some abilities and the potential to develop them, and it's really sad his mother is getting in the way of efforts to help him develop them, because even if he doesn't end up working on the same level as other kids his age, having some knowledge and abilities (particularly the basic self-control to not get violent) would vastly improve his chances at life. (At the children's home where I worked in the Philippines, there was occasionally the slightly depressing "Well, between how far behind they are and the lack of family support, they're not likely to go to high school, but if we can get them to make it through elementary school, they can read labels and handle bills and things, which is much better than where they are now", and it does make a difference.)
4th-Dec-2012 12:26 am (UTC)
Yeah, those crazy teaching dreams. I don't think they go away but they may get fewer or father between. Mine can still wreck a night of sleep, but not usually a night-after-night-after-night of sleep. I think even if your conscious brain wants to let it go, your sleeping brain is still trying to work out how to solve the problem.

A kid acting like that would add stress for anyone, thick skin or thin, because it makes the job harder. Someone with a really thick skin might not take any of it personally, but I imagine that person would be less likely to be a better teacher, because the feeling of personal responsibility is what prompts us to keep looking for better solutions for the next time around.

4th-Dec-2012 09:19 am (UTC)
Bleugh. :D

(To be honest, I've had four kids like that in my class this year. Another went to the nearby behaviour centre, and the other two have come around to mostly behaving well.)

Thank you ♥
4th-Dec-2012 01:03 am (UTC)
*hugs you*

They're right! *points up*

*hugs you some more*
4th-Dec-2012 09:15 am (UTC)
♥ Thank you!
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