Sweet are the uses of adversity, which like the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in his head… wrote Shakespeare in As You Like It.
I am often struck by how many people I meet that have been deeply affected by the words of a discouraging teacher. Words matter. They can deeply affect the way we feel, respond and be motivated and inspired – particularly when uttered by those we regard as ‘significant others’.
We expect teachers to encourage us, be supportive and constructive, to communicate high expectations of our achievement – not only by the way they design and organise our learning, but also by how they speak to us and the words they use. That’s their job.
I think most of us would have concerns about colleagues who were being regularly sarcastic and cynical towards students. Few of us I hope, would tolerate colleagues who were insulting, let alone abusive (even where extreme provocation might justify or tempt such a reaction).
But what about teachers who say negative, unsupportive or discouraging things or who simply don’t give us the reaction or advice we think we deserve?
Are they doing their job properly?
When I was studying for my A levels my Economics teacher told me in front of the whole class that I “should apply for a polytechnic or a college course” because “you will never get in to university”.
I remember the incident as if it was yesterday. I remember her exact words, her tone, her facial expression as she spoke. I even remember what she was wearing – it was the 1970’s, so I won’t horrify you with a detailed description – but such was the significance of that moment it is burnished on my memory nearly 40 years later.
How did I react?
I was shocked in to an embarrassed silence (perhaps that’s what she intended as I was being a bit lippy at the time).
And how did it affect me?
I sat there and thought to myself: “Oh… won’t I? Well… I’ll… show… you…!”
And I did.
But I look back on that incident not as a humiliating put down by a cruel and discouraging teacher (who may even have been justified in her frustration and anger with me). I look back on that moment as almost certainly the greatest motivating phrase I had ever heard in my life. Even now someone telling me “You can’t” provokes in me the thought “I can.”
As Benjamin Disraeli once said: “There is no education like adversity.”
Some of us are motivated by it too.
What are thoughts on this?