'Teacher Me' can handle anything

'Me me', however...

This post was originally published in TES, March 2021

I often find myself wondering how authentically I present myself to my learners.

I strive to embed the celebration of their authentic selves into everything that we do together, or that I support them to do independently. And yet the persona I wear to class is carefully constructed, albeit with their best interests in mind.

I recently caught up with a Mary Myatt seminar where we were reminded that as educators we are human beings first, and professionals second. To me, this accentuated the need for our intrinsic humanity to shape and inform our best teaching selves. Our compassion, potential for connection and vibrant imaginations are invaluable and transferable, all underpinning the creation of powerful student-teacher relationships.

That being said, there are a few very human quirks of my own that I’ve spent considerable time carefully editing out of “Teacher Me”, and I would like to share one of these with you today.

Musing on my teacher self-ignited a reading frenzy around practising transitions across multiple personas that shape a perfectly healthy whole, and strangely, I was unable to find anything at all about spiders.

More specifically, the evolutionary, and therefore completely rational, reasons for my belief that spiders are factually, scientifically, indisputably the Worst Things Ever. A 2015 study conducted at Columbia University in New York proposed that venomous spiders posed such a threat to early humans that we evolved to inherently fear the eight-legged demons. This seems adequate justification to declare my arachnid terror an authentic, rational component of my human self, despite the same article continuing to say that only 4 per cent of the UK population display this phobia now.

I mean, here we have our ancestors, shacked up in caves, braving unforgiving elements in clothes crafted from foliage and animal skins, hunting prey with rudimental tools crafted by their own bare hands, carefully constructing biological responses to the venomous vertebrates they must suffer alongside, and how do we show our gratitude? By reversing all that genetic graft and indoctrinating our infants with songs about the scuttling beasties. It’s ungrateful.

And, I’m quite certain, untrue. I marvel at the improbable circumstances that would have brought 4 per cent of our population, the entire spider-fearing demographic, into my own classrooms. Just one garden spider shuffling erratically between discarded rucksacks has been enough to cause mass panic, seeping from the classroom doors and pulsating down the corridors, engulfing my lesson plan in mounting hysteria as I, atop the desk, weigh up whether this particular emergency requires the fire alarm or a self-referral to safeguarding.

These incidents were regrettably frequent in my early classroom days, but reflection and perseverance have elevated my persona. I’ve levelled up. I’ve reached a higher consciousness in the realm of spider twitching. I transcend effortlessly into the me who is unable to be fazed, and I’d like to demonstrate that with a true story.

It is 8.35 on a cold, dark October morning. Teacher Me is in my weekly yoga class, offered as an enrichment option to my students, and we’re nearing the end of the session. There are approximately 30 learners on their mats, preparing to wind down into savasana where I’ll talk them through a short mindfulness exercise. I notice a hushed commotion in my peripheral, and gently turn my attention to two students near the door. They silently gesture, horrified, to the floor between their mats, where the rabid arachnid is poised. It is approximately the size of a bullmastiff, fanged and muscular. Miraculously no one else yet seems to have noticed. I continue gently guiding the class into their restful supine pose, whilst calming the girls with hand gestures and reassuring eye contact. I silently gather the most steadfast of teaching tools, the blue roll, and spryly navigate the sprawl of closed-eyed students to face the beast. Breaking neither stride nor prose I scoop up the mass of writhing limbs and throw him unceremoniously out of the window. I smile as I return to my mat and notice the spider’s victims have already resumed their savasana pose, and are resting, still and focussed.

Well, I basked in my victory for the remainder of the day. I considered the impressive advancements of Teacher Me as I drove home and, full of self-congratulatory cheer, I arrived home eager to celebrate with a cup of tea and a biscuit or four. Immediately I noticed the house was bitter cold. I reached for the light switch to help me locate the thermostat, but the October dusk continued to rest heavily around me. I navigated my way to the living room light and hit the switch. Nothing.

I stood for a moment in the darkness and let the pieces fall into place. I deduced a fuse had probably blown, and I mentally located the source of the fuse box. It was in the basement, where the spiders lived.

I knew what must be done.

I shrugged, took a larger jacket from the hooks on the wall and placed it over my own coat. I took a fresh pair of slipper socks from the radiator and doubled up before sliding this dreamy sock duo into my slippers. I shuffled into the living room, turned my phone’s torch on and waited for James to return from work.

Teacher Me was off the clock.