J gave up a promising future in the business sector to enter the teaching profession so that she could do something more meaningful. She has taught for two years, and has been frustrated time and again by the many tedious policies and practices at her school which have nothing to do with educating children. When I asked her why she was still able to stick with teaching, she affirmed that teaching allows her to give unconditionally. (See blogpost of July 14.)
A couple of days ago she admitted: I’m willing to give my students all my time and energy and attention, but at this moment, I’m still unable to clear this hurdle, which is not to be emotionally affected when they give no response to my effort.
This is perhaps the ultimate paradox: on the one hand, good teachers want to give unconditionally to their students, on the other hand, they need their students’ reciprocated effort.
This is the ultimate challenge. If no matter how hard you try, how much sacrifice you make, your students still don’t respond by putting in more effort, how long can you persevere?
Sooner or later, you will ask: Do they deserve my effort? Irresponsible teachers who simply go through each day marking time will not care about that. But good teachers will, and the more effort you put in, the more you expect from your students.
This is human nature. Parenting comes closest to totally unconditional giving, but even parents will expect their children to respond to their caring. In very exceptional cases, even parents can lose all heart one day.
I am not exempt from this psychological need. In my first few years of teaching, I literally put in every waking minute of my time. I was born in a poor family; my students all came from working-class families. I believed that doing well in school was their only way to get out of poverty, and I was willing to do whatever I could to help them. But as you could imagine, my effort touched some of the students, but there were always a few who remained indifferent. I was torn between motivation and frustration. Five years into my teaching, I concluded one day that my students did not deserve my effort. I secretly applied to a special school, imagining that it would be more worthwhile to work with SEN students. In those days, there was a huge shortage of SEN teachers, and although I had had no training in that area, the special school soon offered me a teaching position. But at the last moment, I chickened out: I realized that I was not mentally and professionally prepared to work with SEN students. So I stayed at the original school.
If you have some teaching experience, you will know that no matter how much effort you make, there will always be some students who don’t reciprocate. What are we to do? I don’t have a quick answer. But a real problem persists: how do we face up to this situation? How do we keep up our morale? How do we make sense of this reality so that we will ask less and less frequently the question: Do my students deserve my effort?
I believe that if we actively deal with such questions, we will gain deeper insights into