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The emotional drain of teaching August 26, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, teaching.
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I have it from a good source (my husband) that I am hypersensitive to body language.  I can usually tell approximately how someone is feeling, but I can seldom figure out why (without asking directly) or what to do about it.  It’s horribly frustrating when someone is obviously not in the mood to talk with me because it leaves in an uncomfortable position: do I ask what’s wrong? do I want to know? does it have to do something with me?

I will sit there and analyze every snippet of conversation to see if I can figure out whether I am somehow related to the emotions I’m picking up, particularly if they are negative.  Over time, I’ve learned to just try to ignore the negativity and assume the person is having a bad day and may or may not have to do with me in particular.  (On the other hand, that’s not such a good tack to take if you’re dealing with someone who is passive aggressive and rather annoyed with you.)

When I stand in front of a classroom, this is at least an order of magnitude worse.  I have a set of 20 eyes staring at me, and each of them is conveying some emotion.  I think that, most of the time, it’s simply that they would rather be someplace else.  (I can’t blame them, having been in that position at one point.)  I try to deal with it by cracking jokes and making the students at least amused if not actively enjoying being in the classroom.  It’s very effective, I’ve found…although I’ve noticed there are a few students who think it’s somehow inappropriate for a teacher to let on that they have a sense of humor, especially a geeky one.

The tough ones, however, are those who, no matter what you do, really don’t want to be there and convey a feeling of hostility.  It doesn’t matter what you do to lighten the mood.  I’m not sure what to do about them other than to keep making eye contact (if they’ll even look at me) and smile.  But it’s kind of hard when you’ve been doing it all semester and start wishing they did have somewhere else they could be.

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Comments»

1. fargojones - August 26, 2011

I go through this with the fiance a bit. Hours after a completely pleasant conversation, she gets a look, and I know it, and I say “So are you going to make this negative now?” I think I need to tape her when she is being positive to play it back at that point.

Another point: How do you feel about students that are rather engaged in the classroom, discussions, and so on, but their work shows a complete lack of caring or effort.

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mareserinitatis - August 26, 2011

I try not to let that bother me. They will get out of it what they put into it, and if they aren’t motivated to get good grades, that doesn’t reflect on them as a person. (It does reflect on their ability to work toward a goal.) I’d rather have engaged students in class than crabby ones who submit all their work perfectly. In fact, some of those are the worst ones…especially if they’re the kind who blow up over every single point they lose on an assignment.

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2. GMP - August 27, 2011

I am exactly the same (hypersensitive to body language, forever obsessing why someone is grumpy, whether I have annoyed them).
I admire my husband who is blissfully oblivious to other people’s body language, does his thing and moves on. He saves a ton of energy that I dispense on pointless fretting. It’s hard. You just have to keep telling yourself that’s it’s probably not you, that the other person’s foul mood is likely unrelated to you. It’s definitely an acquired skill.

although I’ve noticed there are a few students who think it’s somehow inappropriate for a teacher to let on that they have a sense of humor, especially a geeky one.

You just have to own it. I have found that with more experience teaching and more confidence I get a better response and less grumpiness from students. I am as geeky as ever and they just respond better (my evals have been steadily rising and are quite high now). I think students sense insecurity and some tend to become mean as a result. If you are confident, you can get away with silly jokes, as well as being very strict and demanding, and being a woman. Just keep doing your thing!

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