I hated them, they hated me

February 1, 2018 - 12:00am -- Living City

I hated them, they hated me
The tension between a teacher and her students had to break

I had just finished my postgraduate work in education and had landed my first job teaching in a Church of England high school in West London. I had trained as a religious education teacher and was full of energy and enthusiasm.

I was particularly looking forward to being a homeroom teacher. I relished the opportunity of having pastoral care for 30 teens. I would see them two to three times a day and looked forward to creating a close family unit with this group of new high school students.

Someone had advised me, “Don’t smile for the first three months, otherwise they will think you’re a softie and eat you alive!” Putting on my most stern face, I marched down the corridor to meet my students for the first time.

What the year leader hadn’t told me was that they would be deeply disappointed when they discovered I was replacing their previous homeroom teacher Ms. Saunders. They had adored her. When I walked into the room, I could sense the confusion and resentment.

It went from bad to worse. They sensed I was new to the job and began to act up. My dream of building the best homeroom class in the world quickly vanished. I found myself in constant conflict with them. I tried every sanction in the book and frequently kept the whole class after school or during lunch break. I was deeply unhappy and dreaded seeing them. The feeling seemed mutual. I hated them, and they hated me.

I had been brought up on the Focolare spirituality of unity and had considered myself to be good at bridge building and resolving conflict. But here I was, crushed and demoralized.

What to do? I felt the Holy Spirit was suggesting that I tell the others in the Focolare about this dilemma. It wasn’t easy, as I had to set aside my professional pride and admit I was struggling.

However, after sharing the situation, I felt at peace, and without anyone having to say anything, I understood what I had to do. I simply had to love. I had to be the first to love, even though I felt they were in the wrong and not me. I had to love my “enemies.” I had thought if things went my way, we could have a nice homeroom environment, but I realized my “thirst” was for this answer of God.

The next day I kept them all in again after school. When I walked in the room I could feel a tangible hatred directed at me. I sat on the desk at the front of the class and began to talk with them. I explained how much I had been looking forward to being their homeroom teacher. I spoke about my dreams and expectations and how disappointed I had become when everything had fallen apart. They were really listening.

Then I apologized, telling them I was sorry that we weren’t getting along and that, as a new teacher I had probably made loads of mistakes that a more experienced teacher would not have made. I told them that I wanted to wipe the slate clean and start again. I told them that I would try and see them all with new eyes and hoped that they could see me new. You could have heard a pin drop.

One of the main troublemakers spoke out. He said he admired my honesty and accepted my apology, and that he needed to apologize for his behavior and that of the rest of the class. Various students nodded in agreement. I saw some of them smiling. I was smiling.

Something inexplicable had happened: a teacher had apologized in front of the whole class. It was a new beginning for all.

G. P.

First published in New City, London.


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