Calling on resilience or answering to adversity?

I have been a teacher for four years now: two years in the Teach for Australia program in country Victoria, and two years in the Northern Territory. That’s just to tell you that I’m no expert, but I’ve formed some ideas. I wonder if they’re similar to yours?

For most of my time as a teacher, I have ranked resilience as one of the main qualities a teacher needs. The resilience to persevere when a lesson flops. The resilience to wear a smile even after a student yells, “I hate you!”. The resilience to teach kindness in the lesson after breaking up a fight.

But this year, my ideas have changed slightly.

Wearing resilience as a badge of honour, coming to work prepared to be resilient, telling stories of embodying and teaching resilience, I think, has taken a toll on me. Being resilient implies encountering difficulties, adversity, or even crisis. Telling myself day in and day out, year in and year out, that I need to be resilient, has actually meant weaving a narrative of adversity for myself at work. Coming to work prepared to be resilient entails preparing for negativity, every day. It’s true, difficult situations do arise, every day. But so do positive ones. And I wouldn’t still be doing this job if it were only negative; no one is forcing me to do it, so there must be something good about it. Why do I not come to work preparing for the positivity, for the joy?

Now I do. Instead of relying on a narrative of difficulty and resilience, I try to rely on a narrative of joy. What was positive about today? When did I smile? When did my students laugh? That is more of an everyday narrative than, When was I resilient? Of course, being able to access resilience is important. It is strewn across our national curriculum, and in countless development programs. But resilience is for adversity, not for the everyday. Resilience is for when a family member falls sick, not for when a lesson flops or for when your grade is less than you expected. Sure, hard work and perseverance are important in the latter examples, but maybe not resilience? Seeking joy or meaning might be better in those situations.

This year, trying to rewrite the narrative of how I see my work has been invaluable. Reframing the skills that I need as qualities like positivity, hard work, compassion, and perseverance, rather than resilience has seen me noticing the positives more. Maddison spoke up in class for the first time, Tali was in a better mood, Matthew used the word “eloquent.” This, in the place of, seven students haven’t handed in their assignments, Lachie swore at a classmate, Jay called Mia a slut. Changing this self-talk has made teaching a job that I can look forward to (almost) every day, rather than work up the courage to face (almost) every day.

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