fighting the demons of emotion

A recent reflective practice (RP) meeting in Daegu has got me thinking. In addition, ITDi‘s “Learning to See” blog posts have further spurred my mind.

Throughout my life I have been an emotional person. To this day I vividly remember sitting in McDonald’s with my family and feeling the most immense sadness. I could not have been more than 7 at the time. I felt immense sadness because I saw a man, sitting alone, eating. Upon reflection, as I have grown, I have begun to understand that situation is, obviously, very normal. Of course people go to McDonald’s when they are short on time, traveling, etc. However, even as I write this the emotion I felt at that moment still wells up within me.

There is little hiding from this emotionalism. It defines who I am.

Throughout my life I have struggled to manage the emotional side of myself. It is never easy to admit this weakness.

However, I believe that because of this emotional challenge, I have become an adept reflector. In the beginning reflection was purely to help me understand myself and the emotions that swirled around inside me. Over the years it has also been a great aid in helping me understand my interactions with others. It is reflection that most helps me understand my classroom. However, is never easy to do “in the moment”.

After a recent class that did not go as planned (and that is the bad sense of the idea) I spent a solid hour long lunch furious with myself. I had allowed my irritation to override my critical thinking, which in turn led to a diminished ability to figure out why my students were not grasping what I was trying to impart to them.

After a lunch of reflection I headed back to it; the same lesson, a lower level class, and a new angle to pursue. I went into class with a positive mindset and an action plan and came out afterwards quite satisfied with my students, my lesson and myself..

However, I could not let the irritation of the first class go. I held onto it, dwelling on why everything happened the way it did. I dwelt throughout the week.

My main point of concern, as always seems to be the case, was the arresting of my thoughts when confronted with anger. I hate when that happens and no matter how good I get at reflecting, it still bothers me to no end that “in the moment” I falter so often.

At RP that weekend got a few suggestions.

        1)      Stop. Take a minute and give yourself the space in the moment.

        2)      Stop and write down what you are feeling

These two suggestions, while seemingly obvious, hit me like a ton of bricks. I am always stressed about wasting time (because I do not get much as it is). The thought of stopping never occurred to me. I’ve always expected myself to “reflect on the run”.

In reality, stopping for a minute is not one minute wasted, it’s any number of minutes saved from struggling down the wrong path. Magic! Nothing like a good RP to cap ones week.

RP also brought to mind an article I read sometime back from some news outlet or another (apologies for not being able to find a link). It was about a study on thinking, and the difference between a person analyzing a scenario in their L1 and L2. The study showed that, in identical scenarios, more rational decisions were made when people had to deal with the scenario in their L2. Why is this the case? It was postulated that thinking in our L1 is so quick and easy that it allows space for emotional reaction, while thinking in L2 requires all our effort to focus on the problem at hand. Something to think about. Perhaps just forcing ourselves to slow down could alleviate much.

The same week as RP, as if by providence, iTDi released a series of blog posts called “Learning to See”. I highly recommend all of them. Most pertinent to this post would be the great Kevin Stein’s reflection in action.

I know I’m not the only one who struggles with these issues. I have found these simple fixes immensely useful and would remind all of us, in school or out, that a little mental step away, is always beneficial if we truly want to see.


2 thoughts on “fighting the demons of emotion

  1. Hey John. You’ve storied through an experience and tapped into many reflective facets namely ones that have helped you move forward. I’d like to go back to your original dilemma and the perceptions you have about emotion. This may get deep but I’m hoping to illuminate some of the connotations we associate with emotion. I hoping it doesn’t get preachy. My intention is not to go that way. I like the idea of a sounding board. I’m just saying stuff and reverberation or resonance is all that’s going on.

    I think teacher practitioners who are reflective or better, concerned with their professional experiences need emotion. It is a skill to have this because it really does put you in tune with your teaching, your classroom and your students. Without emotion, you go about your practice without consciousness or conscientiousness. You offer English provisions to students but you are not making connections – to them, to the content, to yourself, to other teachers…

    Frustration, let’s say, in a teaching experience can either propel you to rethink what you are doing or it can just be frustrating and you leave it at that. Reflective teachers seek out emotional experiences to transcend stagnancy in their practice.

    Ok, this will get heavy here. When you read about John Dewey at grad school, you will learn about experience. I wrote this as part of my own understanding of his ideas:

    From a Deweyian point of view, experiences are neither isolated nor static moments in time but rather are reflections of one’s past and intimations of how they will affect one’s future. As Dewey (1938) writes “the principle of continuity of experience means that every experience both takes up something from those which have gone before and modifies in some way the quality of those which come after” (p.35). Experiences are also interactions between individuals and their environment. These Deweyian notions of continuity and contextualization together form the foundation from which I understand the role of the educator and of teacher in the classroom.”

    I was criticized often when I was in graduate school that I was too emotional. But like you, being emotional has made all the difference once I learned that it wasn’t something to hold back if I wanted to go forward. My emotions help me write so why shouldn’t they also be helpful to my practice.

    So keep writing and reflecting. Here’s a quote from Hugh Prather (1970): “As I write I am in a state of learning, becoming, arriving and not in a state of knowing and having arrived.”

    Keep moving forward. Cheers.

    Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York: Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster.
    Prather, H. (1970). Notes to Myself. Moab, Utah: Real People Press.

    • Wow, Darryl, as always…a lot to take in.

      Def appreciate the thoughts and generally feel the same way. Emotion is a powerful part of who we are and I agree that it plays an integral role in tuning into our students and what is happening in the classroom.

      Frustration has definitely done a fair share of propelling me, that is for sure 😉 My own high standards and the difficulties faced as a young and fairly inexperienced teacher lead one to all sorts of opportunities. I am so appreciative every day that I have teachers like you, and the rest of the RP community here in Korea, who work on reflective practice and have no interest in stagnancy.

      Cheers for the informative comment, as always, your thoughts are immensely pertinent and thoughtful.


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