Fragile bonds

IMG_0250It often happens that I meet a former student of mine in the street and one of the following scenarios occur; the student either looks away immediately, pretending she has never seen me before, or she puts on a broad smile instantly and greets me merrily. Depending on the situation, we may even exchange a few casual words.

I obviously prefer the latter scenario because it makes me believe that I made my mark in a student’s life; it makes me believe that I once mattered to a student. The other scenario, on the other hand, makes me feel embarrassed, ignored and unappreciated. In such a case, I tend to accuse the student of utter disrespect and total ignorance.

The other day, though, I suddenly saw the whole thing from a slightly different perspective. For some unknown reason, I remembered how I had reacted when accidentally bumping into a former teacher of mine. I would either look away, pretending I had never seen him before, or I would smile broadly and say ‘Good morning’ merrily.

The fact that I would sometimes choose to look away had nothing to do with disrespect, dislike or ignorance; it had nothing to do with a particular teacher at all. It had a lot to do with my own self-esteem.

When I spotted an old teacher of mine long after school, the first thing that I pondered was whether he actually remembered me. It flashed through my mind that he had probably taught hundreds of students throughout his career and I concluded that he couldn’t remember us all. I deduced that I was probably one of those faces he could no longer recognize in the crowd and I decided to look away, robbing the teacher of the opportunity to show that he actually remembered me very well.

What I’ve written sounds very strange. But what if some of my former students feel the same way? What if they feel they are just some of those faces I can no longer remember? What if they feel that our long-ago connection did not last long enough and was not strong enough for me to bother remembering? What if their seeming ignorance has nothing to do with their attitude to me but with how they perceive themselves in relation to me? And finally, what can I do as a teacher to avoid the future moments of embarrassment?

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About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for more than 20 years. I love metaphors and inspiring discussions concerning teaching, learning and linguistics.
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4 Responses to Fragile bonds

  1. Pingback: Why do we always see the negative? | Random Thoughts

  2. Dear Hana,
    Thank you for another great post. As you’ve said the way we interpret the behaviour of others is a matter of perspective – as I feel everything else in our lives for that matter. I also believe that it is sometimes our tendency as individuals to project our own fears or insecurities to other people’s behavior (it has certainly happened to me a lot). As years go by, I realize more and more that I should focus less on the reasons underlying someone’s behavior and more on the outcomes of their behavior and how I can handle them/develop through them. It’s a tricky process and not always a successful one. But having been in your shoes regarding the running-into-old students awkardness scenario, I think the best course of action is to still be who you are and treat them the way you like to treat others and be treated in return. If they turn away and don’t give you the chance to do so, there could be a million reasons for that. What will matter though is that you were true to how you felt.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Maria. I like what you say about projecting our own fears or insecurities onto other people’s behavior. I think it was this post by Anne Hendler (https://lizzieserene.wordpress.com/2015/07/17/just-a-tidbit-from-school-today/) which made me realize that even when showing compassion, we actually project some of our personal beliefs onto other people. For example, if I say ‘This must be really painful; I feel sorry for you’, I may be wrong about how that person feels and in consequence, I can actually hurt that person. We should remember that what is painful for us is not necessarily painful for others. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be compassionate, though. We should definitely pay attention to how other people feel but without jumping to conclusions.

      Like

      • Maria Theologidou says:

        Wonderful post Hana and it sums up everything we’ve both said. I understand what you mean by not jumping into conclusions. It can happen even with the best of intentions at heart, especially since teachers are by nature (or at least I hope they are) compasssionate and empathetic people. That’s why we should have the eyes and ears of our soul open as well and be more receptive to the actual messages others are trying to communicate.

        Liked by 1 person

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