This post contains reflection on two possibly connected themes that have arisen this week, vulnerability and emotion.
One colleague I have been working with has been concerned with establishing respect with students, and has had a few conflicts with those who have resisted his demands. To what extent might it be useful for him to relinquish some control, to allow himself to be seen as more vulnerable?
Some might argue that it is not desirable for a teacher to be seen as vulnerable. However, in her paper Mathematical Vulnerability, Linda Brandau suggests that exhibiting vulnerability is essential for growth:
To help our students to grow, it is important to show ourselves to be vulnerable human beings... To grow we must take risks and place ourselves in vulnerable positions.
In our department meeting this week, vulnerability appeared in different guises. One colleague talked of 'getting her ego out of the way' to 'create a space where she can soften up'. Another colleague talked of 'reacting differently given knowledge of students' vulnerability'. It seems likely that students may also react differently given knowledge of our vulnerability.
As teachers, how and when might it be more or less useful to be seen as vulnerable? How might vulnerability lead to growth?
In the meeting, a colleague stated she was 'fairly successful at separating her emotional state from her actions in the classroom'. Another colleague wondered if this was possible, and whether it might result in a loss of integrity.
I asked whether it was useful to consider whether we act from different 'centres', such as emotional or rational centres. One colleague strongly rejected this notion, a rejection with which Linda Brandau would probably agree:
I can make distinctions between emotions and cognition, but this is not the same as saying they are separate. When they are viewed as separate, artificiality is created... we must admit to the artificial separations of emotion, cognition, subject matter, professional and private lives. By keeping these areas separate we are concerned with controlling them. By loosening the boundaries, perhaps even cutting them, we become open to enriching learning about ourselves and others...
It might not always be useful, or even possible, to separate or suppress emotions when making decisions. One colleague questioned to what extent it is even possible to reach an awareness of one's emotions.
Emotions, described by Magda Arnold as 'a felt tendency towards or away from an object', are rooted in our likes and dislikes. As JG Bennett describes:
It is not a question of suppressing like and dislike... They have to play in us. They have to produce this tension in us... if one gets caught unawares... all these habitual patterns of our personality reassert themselves... [it] is not a matter of eradicating these things, but learning to work with them them... without getting pulled this way, tempted by this, repelled by that.
Bennett suggests we must go beyond the slavery of reacting to likes and dislikes towards the freedom to choose a response. This can only come from struggle with oneself, from being faced with situations that challenge us to respond differently.
Should we (teachers) be working towards greater awareness of our emotions, and at incorporating them into considered decisions, rather than attempting to separate or suppress them?