They will eat you alive

Sometimes we hold on to beliefs that no longer serve us, perhaps they used to but not anymore. ‘Don’t smile til Easter’ was the catch phrase of many a lecturer, many a colleague in the early days of my career some 30 years ago. ‘They will eat you alive’, ‘they smell fear’ and of course ‘they will tear you apart’ were all common understandings in the staffroom and at university. One of my mentor teachers told me that ‘kids need to be a little bit afraid of you in order to learn’ and you know what? I ran with it.

In those days we seemed to be holding to two completely opposing beliefs at the same time, and we held on tight to both as ridiculous as that sounds today. We believed that the kids are people we need to know and build a relationship with but also that they needed to fear us. What?

The belief that serves me well to this day is that kids are people that we need to know and build relationships with, the second belief that we need to be afraid has gone the way of the dinosaurs. It was only from seriously asking myself why, why, why, have I been able to come up with an answer. Put simply, the second belief gave me permission to behave badly. That’s it. It served me.

By believing that the students needed ‘a little bit of fear in order to learn’ I was giving myself permission to lose my temper, to yell and scream – which I did a lot of in my first year – and generally not self-regulate at all. I could scare kids into compliance. Think about that for a second. I could scare you – by raising my voice and yelling – into doing what I wanted you to do. That sounds absolutely horrendous, and I am certain that it was for some of my kids on some of their days. Dreadful. Shameful even. Thing is, I did not feel ashamed at all at the time and you know why, because I was doing the best I could with the knowledge that I had, I didn’t know any better. Now I do.  Looking back now, there is shame in a sense, in that I can’t quite accept that not only did I hold that belief but that I acted on it.

Accepting my own behaviour as it was, did not come until many years later and it took a while for me to understand that it wasn’t great for sure but it also wasn’t life threatening. I sat with feelings of guilt for a time and then gave myself a break. I remembered that it wasn’t all yelling, there were lots of great times and learning happening as well.

Sometimes, we need to take a hard look at the beliefs we hold that affect our behaviour. We need to look in the mirror and know that sometimes what we see is ugly and needs work. Then we need to start the work. Evaluate the beliefs that serve you and your students well and those that serve your bad behaviour. We are all human and therefore works in progress, don’t get stuck holding the wrong things.


Check out other articles Cassie has written here.