When the pain is finally blown away …

IMG_20151028_120203The draft of this post was written a couple of days ago. It was written in a very vulnerable and unstable state of mind. When I calmed down later on, I decided not to post it. But earlier today, something eventually made me change my mind. A friend of mine told me about something that had happened to her, which I felt was in some way similar to what I had experienced.

Both stories have something to do with the fact that you have no control over what people think and what they say about you. If they say nasty things and they share them publicly, on social media, for example, you can’t but let it be when the pain goes away.

Here’s the original story.

As you probably know, I’m a homeroom teacher to a class of 25 teenagers. One of them recently set up a class blog. Soon afterward, I incidentally learned about the blog and I immediately whooped with delight.

I promptly shared my joy with the kids so from then on they knew I was visiting the blog. Over time, I’d discovered that only a handful of students were regularly contributing to the blog. Unfortunately, some of the stuff they shared verged on inappropriate. I suspected that the web was not a perfectly safe place, so the rest of the class probably preferred avoiding it. So I told the kids that they should be careful about what they post and that they were fully responsible for the content of the blog. I reminded them that cyberspace can be a tricky place. This story is an irrefutable proof of that.

The other day, the founder of the blog posted a ranty comment in which he complained about school. He mentioned a few teachers, including me. In his comment, he said that he had enough of Mrs. T, who constantly pokes her nose in everybody’s personal stuff. Another boy joined in and actually continued in the same vein – he complained about school and how annoying it was, how disgusting the food in the school canteen was, how irritating the homeroom teacher is – nothing new under the sun. Anyway, the first boy then replied to the second boy’s comment. This time, however, his comment was intentionally and openly rude.

I know teachers get on teenagers’ nerves; I have two teenagers at home after all. At this age, adults are probably seen as enemies and students feel the need to be rebellious at all costs. Nevertheless, I did feel sad when I saw the comments. The matter was complicated by the fact that I was at home on holiday and I couldn’t talk to the students face to face to get things straight.

So my sadness slowly turned into a mixture of disappointment, fear, and anger. I had always regarded the founder of the blog a nice boy and I was surprised how much bitterness there was within him. I think I particularly didn’t like the fact that he was manipulating others, infecting them with his negativity and disgruntlement, but the worst thing about the whole incident is that he knew I’d see the comment, so I couldn’t but take it personally.

However, I tried to stay rational. I used a technique that should be helpful in situations like this; whenever I thought of the incident, I started breathing slowly. I tried to recognize the pain, feel it and then let it go. This helped a bit. I went back to the website to find evidence that I was actually being paranoid and that nothing really terrible was happening. I re-read the comments, especially the last one. The pain came back again. I dosed myself with another breathing exercise. Was I expected to respond? They boy had sent out a clear message and believed I’d receive it at some point.

After a while, for a fleeting moment, my feelings changed; I suddenly felt admiration and respect towards the student. I realized how much courage it took to write such a comment and sign beneath it.

But the disappointment came back. It was impossible to fight it. I was hopeless and desperate. I had to act. I had to do something. I kept telling myself that these things simply happen, that they help me learn and grow. This purely cognitive approach helped, for a millisecond, but then the negativity was back again. I finally became angry with myself. I ended up blaming myself for being totally irrational, impulsive and over-sensitive.

Now, this is my train of thought: I might have pretended I hadn’t seen the comment at all. Or, I might have pretended that I didn’t give a damn about their website. I might well stop visiting the blog completely to save myself from potential trouble and tears.

IMG_20151028_112554Long story short, I chose the third option. However, I should add that I did talk to the boy as well (not face to face to face, though). I wanted him to know that I knew. I wanted the other kids to know too. I don’t know if it was right, but for me, it was the only way of handling this burdensome situation. And even now, when I’m relatively calm, I don’t regret it. Now I can finally let it be and forgive the boy and myself.

My final set of (rather suggestive) questions would be this: Do I have the right to feel emotional in such a situation? Do I have the right to tell my students how much it hurts to hear the nasty things they utter. Should I teach my students about the rules of decent (online) communication? Or should I stop controlling them, i.e. should I stop poking my nose into their stuff, and let them discover things for themselves?

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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.
This entry was posted in Education, Just pondering ..., Personal challenges, Professional development. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to When the pain is finally blown away …

  1. Marc says:

    I hope that things settle down after half term. Think of this as a learning opportunity for your students, though. It is important for them to know that even though they may be forgiven by you (excuse my assumption) the relationship you have has been fundamentally changed through this betrayal of trust and transgression of normal social mores.

    Or you could be really polite and damn them with faint praise until you stop feeling wounded (which I have done with a university class that went weird on me). It lets them know you haven’t given up on them but that they have done something much worse than cause you to scream and shout.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Oh, thanks for this comment, Marc. I totally agree; it’s a great learning opportunity for all the people involved. I really like what you say about the future of the relationship. You know, some say that we (teachers) should be all lovey-dovey, understanding and tolerant. Unconditional love is great but very hard to achieve. ‘Damn them with faint praise until you stop feeling wounded’ – that sounds like a great piece of advice. Thanks! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • I hope your students read your blog and realise that not only teenagers, but adults are fragile too and are wounded when hurtful things are said about them. Being mature isn’t really a question of age but of having tools to respond to aggression that are respectful of oneself and of others. I’m thinking of your use of breathing techniques to control the emotions you have every right to feel. Also of using your blog to write about them. Writing about emotions, like concentrating on breathing, gives us back control over our bodies and our minds. It must have taken a great deal of courage to post what you wrote.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Hana Tichá says:

    Thank you for your words of compassion, Glenys. You are right – it was easy to write the post but very difficult to publish it. But I know this is a safe place – free of humiliation or mockery. Thank you for being part of this safe and cosy space, where I can share my deepest emotions fearlessly. Thanks for helping me feel stronger.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Zhenya says:

    Hana, I agree with the commenters: you are courageous, I admire this in you. Your courage, plus reflection, and thought, and understanding. Said it many times – your students are fortunate. Now, giving yourself more time to think about this is a great idea. I think with time and ‘distance’ from this event you will be able to (intuitively?) make a good decision as to how to respond.
    Thank you for your posts. Always.
    Zhenya

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Thanks, Zhenya. I agree that time and distance are very important here. Lots of problems would be solved peacefully if one was patient enough to calm down and wait. Yes, I might be courageous and have a contemplative mind, but my worst enemy is my impatience. At least I know what to work on 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. ven_vve says:

    Hi Hana,
    I’m sorry to hear you’ve had this deeply unpleasant experience. I’ve been trying to formulate a sensible, supportive comment and keep deleting everything. It’s really hard to know what to say – did you get the feeling after you talked to the boy (or emailed him, and I suppose he emailed back?) that he was at all sorry? That he understood his actions might have had repercussions? I suppose you could turn this into a teaching point about online communication. Maybe you could find stories of people who lost their jobs over online comments or experienced other unpleasant consequences – maybe that would help bring home the point? But I think most of your students don’t need this lesson, and I guess they’d feel uncomfortable. Are you serious about not keeping an eye on what else appears on the blog? In any case, I agree with Zhenya about distance being a key factor here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Hi Vedrana,

      Thanks for your sensible and supportive comment 🙂 What felt like a deeply unpleasant experience several days ago suddenly looks very distant and hazy – as if it hadn’t actually happened to me but to somebody else. I’ve asked myself a couple of times if there was something I might have done differently. I suppose that there *were* a few ‘more sensible’ alternatives, but in the end, I’m glad that things turned out the way they did. I don’t want to sound too sardonic, but I think it’s high time to stop taking for granted that people will like me just because I like them. I definitely feel more resilient and less vulnerable now.

      To answer your question: no, the boy didn’t say sorry for what he had done and I’m not sure whether he actually feels sorry at all. His view is that ‘as far as he knows, there is freedom of speech in the Czech Republic so he has nothing to add’. He said this publicly, in front of his peers, so you can’t take it too seriously. I guess I know what the motives behind his actions and words are, but I don’t want to speculate here. All I know is that this probably has nothing to do with me; he’s just trying to find his place in the world ….

      I think I will keep an eye on what appears on the blog, but I’ll definitely take a different approach if I come across something inappropriate next time.

      Thanks again.

      Hana

      Liked by 1 person

  5. TheSecretDoS says:

    Hi Hana
    I’m sorry to hear that you’ve had this unpleasant experience. The internet has its great things, but I think this is it’s dark side. Have you read Jon Ronson’s book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed?

    The best approach, I think, is one of compassion. Here you’ve got a young kid whose brain is all over the place. His main (maybe his only) drive is to secure a decent place within his social hierarchy – if you look at him as a hairless young ape, you can probably begin to understand just how important it is that he achieves it!

    You may know that I’m a big fan of the book The Chimp Paradox. Young boys and young men are almost entirely chimp, according to the author. And the key point here is that You Are Not Your Chimp (which means that They Are Not Theirs). In other words, it wasn’t the boy who wrote that stuff on the blog, it was his chimp. He can’t control his chimp (although it would do him no harm to try and learn how to manage it). The chimp doesn’t do things to hurt other people, it only ever thinks about itself. I hope it will help you (and others) to realise that this kind of thing is never personal…it’s all about self-justification or self-aggrandisement.

    To answer your questions:

    Do I have the right to feel emotional in such a situation?
    Do you have a choice?

    Do I have the right to tell my students how much it hurts to hear the nasty things they utter.
    You’re their teacher…it is almost incumbent upon you to teach them that their actions have consequences. Well done you for talking to them about it!

    Should I teach my students about the rules of decent (online) communication?
    Absolutely. There’s plenty of reason to think that these rules are almost as important as teaching them the rules of decent offline communication. But perhaps it would be better to “explore” these rules with them, rather than “teach” these rules to them?

    Or should I stop controlling them, i.e. should I stop poking my nose into their stuff, and let them discover things for themselves?
    If we took that approach with our children, the species wouldn’t last much longer. We’re their guides in this world (although in the digital world, we are only experimenting with applying older values in a newer context). We might very well be wrong, but we still have the duty to try!

    With kids, I think you need to care very little about the hateful things they can say…and understand that those rare moments of love and emotion they show are the real deal. You have to give yourself licence to be hurt and to get angry, but you have to help yourself by allowing these emotions to come and go. Above all, remember that we can no longer understand what it means to be them. But we can understand that compassion and empathy will (nearly?) always win the day!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Hi, TheSecretDos,

      Thank you so much for your encouraging comment. It’s been really helpful over the past few days.

      No, I haven’t read Jon Ronson’s book, but now I think I should. Thanks for your advice that I should look at the boy as a hairless young ape. Well, I’ll do my best but sometimes I think I’m that young ape myself 🙂 We all seem to have our chimps, which, now and then, get out of control. By the way, at the moment, I’m reading Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now and I think that he’s talking about chimps too, even though he doesn’t call them chimps.

      Regarding your answer about my power to feel emotional – well, now I think I do actually have a choice, but I keep choosing to be emotional (or maybe my chimp does so?).

      Anyway, I really love what you say in the last paragraph: “With kids, I think you need to care very little about the hateful things they can say…and understand that those rare moments of love and emotion they show are the real deal.” This is truly optimistic and so true. Thanks!

      Hana

      Like

      • TheSecretDoS says:

        Hi Hana
        I’m not convinced by Tolle, but I haven’t given him much of a chance, I have to admit!

        Do you have a choice about feeling emotional? I’d guess not. The illusion of choice may be there, but can you really choose not to feel these emotions?

        The choice, I think, comes with how we choose to react to these emotions. They will come and they will not always be unpleasant. But how will we receive them and what will we do in response to them…that may very well be within our power.

        Like

  6. Hana Tichá says:

    Hm. That sounds plausible. I gather it’s what Tolle and others believe too. Emotions are there and they are neither bad nor good. As you imply, it’s important how we choose to react to them, especially to the ‘negative’ ones.

    Like

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