Thick Skin Paradox

Beneath my steely exterior beats a heart of molten concrete.

Let me start over… I have a confession to make.

I’m human. Which sucks, really, because it would be nice to be an inhuman monster more often.

One of the things that is necessary as a teacher is a thick skin. Teachers walk into a classroom full of people and are immediately outnumbered. Then we take a group of students, and IF EVERYTHING GOES ACCORDING TO PLAN, we will push their boundaries, test them, challenge their beliefs and change how their minds work. Teachers will give them work and more work, and often answer questions with questions. So it is not surprising that they get a little frustrated sometimes.

People have all sorts of coping mechanisms for stress, and anger/attack/fight/flight is a hardwired leftover from being cavemen who periodically needed to contend with Smilodon. And of course now our brains can’t always navigate the difference between dealing with a math test and being confronted with a saber-toothed-tiger. I have been shouted at, called a “dream killer”, physically intimidated, and been accused of being everything from “too nice” to a Nazi.

I signed up for this job.

And let me be clear: I love this job. Stress is often the price that people pay for making breakthroughs. I know that when students get angry or stressed, it is a symptom and not the problem itself. And you can only sit back and watch as they discover themselves what sort of people they are. My reactions to others outbursts are focused primarily on how it impacts others.

But here is the paradox: stoicism is not necessarily the best course. Being able to navigate the needs, the apathy, the wheedling and whining or the rage of a crowd of students can be physically and emotionally taxing. You develop a thick skin to cope, and you lose some of the fire a good teacher needs.

So here is the hard truth: it is okay to be hurt sometimes. It is part of life. In fact, it is an essential part of learning… which as teachers we need to keep doing too. (Incidentally: humor is my outlet. Not deep, but I can take something horrible and scary, disarm it and laugh it to death.)

So being human sucks. Sometimes.

… And I will never quit growing …

P.S. To the student who accused me of being “too nice,” I am laughing at you. I know how I spend my weekends.

P.P.S. Okay, I may be growing slowly.

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