How when the (English) teacher is ready the students appear…?
My mum occasionally likes to throw around the old adage ‘there’s nothing new under the sun’. It’s true, sure. But then, something will happen in your life that suddenly amplifies what you’ve heard before, gives it more substance. That’s why we are all a beautiful work in progress, you and I, all the time.
English teaching, it turns out, offers a light and important look at relationships, life’s philosophies, getting by, managing change. In particular, that rather uncomfortable and simple notion that we treat others the way we want to be treated.
One of the most liberating things I learnt from a wonderful Women’s Circle in Perth is that we don’t always need to be/act/feel the same, every day, all day, all the time. That might sound obvious, but just bear with me a minute… how often do we pressure ourselves to ‘be consistent’? To really go with the flow is about being real, feeling free to drop the façade when someone asks ‘how’s it going?’, and you want to say anything other than “pretty good”, or worse to sign-off with“it’s all good” (which I think is fine when said with real conviction, not resignation).
In the classroom in China, particularly back in those early days when I was nervous and oh-so-serious, I often wanted the students to be the same every lesson. Monday, I thought they were ratbags; Tuesday, they were almost angelic. After those lessons I’d think ‘Yes! If only every week was like this?!”. I just wanted consistency, I wanted them to behave, to know what to expect; just do what I ask, please!
And yet, I feel so relieved and liberated when others grant me the good grace of accepting me as I am, in the moment, and don’t put expectations on me to be the same as yesterday/last year/the last time they saw me. Perhaps shaking their head a little, but hey, accepting nonetheless. Isn’t that what the old expression ‘warts and all’ really means?
So then, why do I expect them to be any different (to me)? Why on earth would I not think that they have their own issues, trials, ups, downs, happy and sad stories behind the cheerful hellos and broken English…and did I mention they’re teenagers, in their first few weeks of a new school year, being taught by a person who doesn’t even speak their language?
I’m going to take a punt here and guess that you have your own ‘them’?
Think about it… we see someone on Wednesday and they’re bouncing off the walls, fresh and mischievous… a few days later they’re kinda mellow. And they don’t even do so much as to offer an explanation! We panic, we bemoan their mood swings, we might wonder what we did (which is 99.5% not part of the issue). Maybe ‘something happened’, like the lead character in their favourite TV show was killed off, most unexpectedly.
Or perhaps there are the deeper, more subtle, mysterious emotional forces at play. They woke up that morning remembering they had wanted to be a dancer, not an engineer. They might be thinking about the homeless person they passed on the street, the argument they had with their spouse this morning, the bills they’re not sure how to pay this month.
There’s a place for consistency (that’s integrity of character) and there’s a place for just rolling with the ups and downs, showing compassion and doing the best we can under those circumstances (and still loving the person, however hard it might seem). Let them be and love them anyway (I’m still working on it but I want to do the same for you, really I do!).
Photo credit: samebutdifferent.org.uk