The other day a student told me by the end of the day, that she had never done so much schoolwork in a day. I asked her what she thought helped her do that, to which she replied : “You didn’t tell me what to do, but let me do what I wanted to”. In the start of the lesson this student was vehemently against the agenda of the day as I presented it. After having put the rest of the class to work, I sat down and asked her what was wrong, she told me that she did not think she would benefit from the exercise I had detailed. I then told her that I of course cannot make her do anything she didn’t want to, but I was interested in hearing what she then thought she would benefit / learn from doing. And I let her do that. Did she learn something? Definitely, was it what I had planned? Absolutely not. But she left the class that day, a little happier about school and with a success in her mental backpack.
In the course of app. 5 years the school I work on, in Denmark, has had a switch in clientele. We have encountered more and more students with mental problems and stress. They sometimes come from school abstinence of a couple of months and sometimes even years. Other times they have suffered a tragedy or have learning disabilities. The teachers and management all agree that the key to make these students have a success at our school is in how we, as adults and teachers, relate to them.
Denmark has a long standing tradition of a very low level of authority in schools, one of our treasured novels in the Danish curriculum is the novel “Det forsømte forår”, which is about an abusive teacher who meets an untimely demise from the hands of his students. Not that it is everyday life for a teacher, but it says something about how strict teachers are regarded. It is also very uncommon to call a teacher by his or her last name or even Mr. or Mrs. My students call me by my first name, we high-five each other, make jokes, and even hug.
I had a discourse on what a teacher can do to reduce the stress in pupils, with my students. One of the recurring points they made was that it was important for them to be regarded as individuals and that the teacher understands that they have different needs. As they said the respect for a teacher comes not from the appearance of authority, but from skill and knowledge.
In the context of SPOTLIGHTERS the student mentioned in the start was visibly stressed by the demands of the lesson in the start. Her amygdala was in high alert, thus she fought the structure, luckily she did not flee nor did she go limp. This allowed me to engage with her respectfully and eye to eye. This way I could bring her down and little further along the road from chronic stress.