How to cope with frustrations.

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· A guide for teachers and other demanding professions.

Teachers shamaa
A session with teachers in the Shamaa district, Western Region

The role of teachers in any society is most valuable. Teaching happens to be the prime profession expected to prevent and solve many societal ills, while – at the same time – schooling humanity with values, skills, and a pervading sense of order and justice. The responsibility for educating children and the youth, in particular, falls on this noble vocation.

The great teachers of old

To fulfill these purposes Finland, for example, selects their best brains to raise the nation’s children and the youth to be both ethical and skilled professionals. Just as in the annals of Chinese history, the teachings of Confucius were held sacrosanct, so did the early Greeks honour the teachings of Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato. Equally valuable to Buddhists, Christians and Muslims are the teachings of Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed respectfully. Such powerful teachers provided the substance that helped to glue societies together.

In reality, the more disruptive the society is, the more teachers encounter frustrations in the task of raising the youth. Unfortunately in Ghana, resorting to the cane happened to the prevalent way of correcting behavior. But – in an enlightened world – is imposing physical pains and emotional harm on children the best remedies?

A reader recently mailed the following, “It is about time someone told Ghanaians that whipping children is an expression more of society’s failures than children’s misbehavior. After all the years of whipping how many of our children have developed some useful apps and how many of our adults themselves can we trust with the affairs of state? Please stop this brutality and crime against children.”

Children’s health and safety

In training for my Teaching Credentials in the School of Education in the United States, the first mandated courses included “Children’s Health and Safety”. Recognised as more important than mere cognitive abilities, the course focused on the “3 Ps” which are now part of the United Nation’s Conventions on Children’s Rights: One, Protection from physical, mental and sexual abuses of all kinds, irrespective of any nation’s accepted religious or cultural dictates. Two, Provisions for food, health, and shelter. And Three, Participation by children in decisions that affect them.

Another dominant course was, “Psychology Applied to Teaching”. With a section titled, “Coping with Frustrations”, it recommended remedies knowing that in the teaching practice some misbehaviors are a given in any child’s evolution.

For the past 20 years or so, I have insisted in my writings, teaching teachers, and in speaking engagements that student teachers need to be taught at the school sites, so that the teacher trainers – lecturers, professors and the rest – are visible at the schools sites helping the teacher trainees how to handle difficult misbehaviors and avoid stressful emotional situations. Then, of course, the trainers themselves have to be abreast with mature remedies.

Develop a personal sense of purpose

There are problems and frustrations in most professions and jobs, and teaching is no exception. To function adequately in the classroom, teachers will need to learn to cope with the many problems that are inevitable.

The more people understand themselves better – with a pervading sense of purpose – the less likely they are to be overwhelmed by events they cannot control. In that regard, developing greater self-awareness, is in itself therapeutic. In taking stock of one’s self and evaluating dissatisfactions, it helps to consider what Confucius was reputed to have put in the form of a prayer by asking divinity for “the strength to change what can be changed, the courage to accept what cannot be changed, and the wisdom to tell one from the other.”

It pays to recognize new possibilities in teaching. If a “standard” technique for dealing with a particular problem is prohibited, find a new and different way to do it. If you are hung up on a particular frustration, ask the head, an older teacher, or a consultant for help. In some cases, all it takes is a different perspective to reveal a simple solution.

Avoid taking out your frustrations on others

One purpose of psychotherapy is to provide for the release of tension by talking with friends who teach similar subjects or encounter similar stressful situations. By working together, comparing ideas for the better way forward one is relieved of unnecessary stress. On that note, avoid “downers” and people who are themselves impervious to change and are full of venom and homegrown dissatisfaction.

A primary reason to seek the release tension is to avoid punishing your students. A certain amount of righteous indignation may be a good thing; but too often an angry unprepared teacher may be more at fault than the alleged provokers. So remember the 6 Ps: Proper prior preparation prevents poor performance.

Stimulate group discussion

“Group therapy” sessions or “Gripe sessions” in  teachers’ common rooms are often an effective way to keep body and soul together, especially if there is an element of humor in them. Looking for the humorous side of things is a fine, all-purpose method of dealing with frustrations in or out of the classroom.

On the other hand, if you have reached a point where personal problems are beyond the ideas that friends or such sessions can give, it is advisable to seek professional help. Individuals who recognize their need for help are often in better mental health than those who refuse to acknowledge the possibility.

In a place where you see nothing but negative factors, it may be best to leave that “field of force”. Rather than a cowardly thing to do, “a strategic withdrawal” to a different school, a different area, or a different profession may be the sensible option. At the end of the day, love what you do and be professionally prepared to do your very best and let God to do the rest. Amen!

Email: anishaffar@gmail.com

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