My home is my hideout – and today I am hiding in its safe spaces, licking my wounds after a bruising day yesterday (Details in my previous post). But I am also taking advantage of my natural inclination to hide in order to plan strategies for the future.
Animals burrow and hide when they are frightened, threatened and hurt. We humans are no different in that respect. Being hidden feels safe.
This is what cats do when they are threatened. It makes them look bigger, stronger, more alarming and aggressive. When accompanied by loud yowls, it is enough to scare off all but the most determined attacker.
But behind it lies feline fear.
I can see that I have tried to do something very similar since I started life as a supply teacher – but with far less success: Confrontational posturing and loud vocalisation does not frighten off the human ‘enemy’ in the same way, does it? We smell the fear lurking behind, even if we are not consciously aware of it.
But why, you may ask, would I even need to ape a cat’s fur when entering a classroom? What is the point?
I have been asking myself that question since yesterday’s unhappy experience. I say this because I am a firm believer in the maxim that classroom management originates from the teacher’s behaviour and not that of the students – and that, when things go wrong, it is, as often as not, poor management on the teacher’s side rather than the actual disruption caused by the kids.
This was true of me yesterday. I did not manage those classes with finesse, with humour, with patience, with distraction – with all the techniques I have at my fingertips, in other words. I went in like a terrified, fluffed-up cat, yowled and shrieked and convinced no one, least of all myself, that I was in control of the situation.
So, again, I say, ‘Why?’
The answer hit me this morning. Almost exactly a year before I quit teaching, a year nine boy physically attacked me. He was small, though extremely aggressive, and did not inflict serious damage; two of the lads in the class pulled him off and tried to stop him from escaping. He was expelled. But the emotional damage had been done, unfortunately – and absolute frozen terror was my constant companion for the remainder of my time as a full-time teacher. I can see now that my own behaviour changed as a result of this assault: That I became more and more like the fluffed-out, noisy cat, over-reacting to the slightest hint of threat and feeling profoundly unsafe, especially with – I can now see so clearly – aggressive, overtly disobedient lads.
This has had a devastating knock-on effect: I tense up and go into full cat mode before there is, actually, any genuine need; I yowl and screech and make myself bigger than I am because of a ghost. The tragic side of this is that, in previous years, I was able to ride, absorb, contain and overcome the worst excesses of behaviour from the most demanding children. I had an innate ability with ‘difficult’ children – and much of my weeping yesterday centred around the apparent loss of this magic touch.
So, should I even be contemplating a return to teaching?
Yes, I firmly feel I should – or at least that I give it my very best shot. I feel that, six years on, it is time I faced that raging child head on – in the metaphorical sense; that I learned lessons from that event, the most important of which is this: The attack was an anomaly, so unusual that it was the only one in thirty years; and, I adapted my own behaviour, for the worse, in response to a one-off.
If I give in, give up, now, this furious child will ALWAYS be coming for me; the fight or flight response will continue to be triggered by harmless teens making a lot of rowdy noise on our streets; I will never look that fear in the eye and see that, for the most part, it is needless.
I am not a cat, though we are all animals under the skin. I have a mind; I have strategies for controlling both myself and the children I teach. That they are rusty from lack of use is not in doubt; that they can be cleaned and polished is my hope and my intention.
I am scared. Very. But I am also stubborn enough not to want to be bested by my own fears…
The kids were high and over-excited yesterday, but it was my mishandling of the situation which caused the problems. I can do nothing about the kids’ fluctuating moods, difficult home situations and complex special needs – but I can ensure that my behaviour is not making a bad vibe worse. I can ensure that I rein-in my cat response!