Dragons and Mockingbirds

There are no homogenous classrooms. There has never been an unbreakable mould designed to create the ideal student, client, or mentee. Neither are we educators immune from the effects of life squeezing lemon juice in our eyes. How can we remain true to who we are in essence, while developing flexibility when dealing with others, particularly difficult people? Check the mirror on this one. That’s often where we’ll find that difficult person. 

To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel by Harper Lee published in 1960. It was an instant success and has gone on to sell over 40 million copies and has been translated into 40 languages. It is a classic of modern American literature and even won the Pulitzer Prize.

One of the great things about To Kill a Mockingbird is it’s cast of beautifully ugly, fascinating characters.  Mrs. Dubose is one of them. She’s a disturbingly sour old lady. She sits on her front porch and viciously hurls abuse at the book’s narrator, a young girl nicknamed Scout and her brother Jem any time they walk past her house.

The natural tendency for many of us might be to throw some spite bombs back at her, let them land in her shawl covered lap (where it is rumoured that she hides a confederate pistol,) and watch her explode.

Town lawyer and the kid’s father Atticus however had been blessed with empathy and patience. Coupled with the wisdom of experience and inside knowledge, rather than ripping into Mrs. Dubose, (which with his intellect and lawyerly rhetoric he could do with ease,) he instead would, as he passed her house each day, respectfully take off his hat and wish her a courteous and joyful “good morning”.

This is what incites Scout to proclaim that “It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.”

To Scout’s mind, her Dad was like a knight taking a birthday cake to a dragon and inviting it to blow out the candles.

She saw his ability to remain charming and controlled as powerful. She was right.

So how can we deal with and even inspire difficult people, particularly students? While there are plenty of ways and we’d love to hear your ideas, here are 3 of our quick tips.

1. Be A Cheerleader

Imagine a student as part of your team. Do you put down your players or cheer them on and encourage them? They need to feel like you actually want to help them and that you’ve got their back. Otherwise, the more they feel neglected or even unwanted, the more they will act up. Yes, even adults.

2. Provide Relevance

One of the most common complaints that difficult students make is that the content they are being taught is not relevant to their existence. Studies show that subjects that lean into the “yawn factor” (i.e., are boring,) can be tolerated and accepted if students can see value. There are always life connections that can be made.

3. Stay Calm and Soldier On

“Take it to mind, not to heart” – Nate Hamon

A little stoicism goes a long way. Educators that take every bit of rebellion, back of room chatter, obstinate arm folding, criticism etc. to heart are likely to break down in a whimpering mess. One of the first things that I like to do is tell my students, young and old, that intellectually honest critique will be part and parcel of course assessments. Sometimes we’ll do it privately and sometimes publicly. I’ve found that when I prepare my students for that process, after the initial pain, they soon get over it and start craving the opportunity to hear the thoughts of their fellow students as well as their Trainer.

Speaking of Trainers, if you are considering becoming an educator, particularly an industry experienced (whether that’s Butcher, Baker, Hockey-stick Maker…) you’ll need your TAE40116 (Certificate IV in Training and Assessment).Talk to us now about how we can help you to achieve that.