Workplaces love surveys, don’t they?
My school is a great place to work. As I’ve written about before, I get constant support from my colleagues, administrators and parents. I know I’m lucky to have this.
So, recently, when I received a “employee satisfaction survey” I was happy to take it. I marked a lot of “extremely satisfied” and “definitely yes” answers.
But then I got to this question, and I paused: “Are you able to present yourself each day in a way that is seen by our students as consistent and reliable (i.e., unaffected by outside-of-school problems)?”
I didn’t have a hard time with the first part of the question, as I believe consistency and reliability are good. It was the part in parentheses that bugged me. Okay, sure, teachers shouldn’t come in and talk about their night out at the club or their latest love dramas with students. Teachers need to have boundaries and need to be consistent.
But why in the world should teachers be expected to be unaffected by outside-of-school problems? Why would that be desirable at all?
I’m not saying that a teacher should be sobbing in front of students every day. But wouldn’t it be strange if, let’s say, a teacher had her husband die from cancer and then never mentioned it at all to her students? What exactly would that teach students?
I’ll tell you what it would teach students. It would teach them that when something bad happens to someone, you shouldn’t say anything. When something bad happens in the world, you shouldn’t talk about it. It teaches them that bad things should be avoided.
I know this is what we’re teaching kids across America. I know it because that’s what many people do in response to tragedy.
A few months after Shawn died, I met up with an old colleague. We were never close, but she certainly knew what had happened to my husband. During our conversation, she spent the entire time talking about her current work and not once did she mention Shawn’s death.
My husband had died less than six months prior. It was the first time we were seeing each other, but she didn’t bring up my loss. It was hurtful.
Maybe this old colleague of mine was just a jerk, but I doubt it. I’m sure she just didn’t know what to say. Maybe – just maybe – she’d never had an example in front of her of someone who showed her how to talk about difficult subjects. Maybe no one had ever mentioned untimely death or great tragedy in front of her.
But certainly she’d been around someone who had been grieving at some point. This woman was in her 30s. My guess is she just hadn’t had an example of being forced to deal, head-on, with the discomfort that grief can bring.
This is why I have a problem with the survey question. Not because it asks about consistency and reliability – those things are important. But because it implies that in order to be a consistent and reliable teacher, you need to leave the outside world behind.
This survey was created by a survey company. My school didn’t make it up, and in fact, my school is great about asking teachers to deal with difficult subjects, including topics like race relations, gender dynamics and historic discrimination. They love when we talk about issues in the news. And I’ve been supported whenever I’ve chosen to discuss my grief with my students.
But surveys like this, made up by people I’ll never meet, show a problem that persists in education. Don’t share who you are. Don’t tell students about the real issues in your life. Continue on as though everything is okay, and then students will have the best learning experience possible.
But I think our students need to see our whole selves. Not just so they can connect with us, but also so that they don’t become that woman: the one who is too uncomfortable to bring up the death of my husband. The one who would rather avoid an uncomfortable situation than face it head-on.
My job is to teach history and government. But it’s also to show students what it means to go through a major life event in a human way. That may mean I am not always chipper. That may mean that I cry at times. That may mean that I talk about Shawn when we’re talking about important people in our lives.
I’m consistent. I’m reliable. And I’m also affected by outside-of-school problems. All of this makes me who I am, and I think it makes me a better teacher when I can thoughtfully and carefully share some of my life with my students.