The curse of listening

I am often saying how important it is to listen to students, and that I am fascinated by student thoughts and feelings. When students say I am a good teacher my usual response is to say it’s because I have spent the last eleven years in a situation where I get to listen to lots of students.

But there is an important thing I almost never talk about, which is that sometimes listening is actually awful. I can think of not many more debilitating curses to lay upon people than to wish them the ability to listen.

Because listening is exhausting.

Because I am listening to students, I know an explanation doesn’t work, so I have to come up with new ones, usually on the fly. Because I am listening to student thinking, I come across new ways to think about all sorts of things that I had never considered before, which I then have to process. Because I am listening, I am faced with people’s feelings and stories, which I have to process emotionally. Because I am listening, I can easily become fascinated with new ideas and problems which take up my mind. Because I am listening, I hear things that need changing in teaching methods or university systems, and either try to work to change them or worry that I can’t. In short, because I am listening I am constantly processing information and emotions both in the moment and later on. It’s exhausting.

I don’t always cope well with it. In person with students I can just deal with who is in front of me and it’s ok, though there are times I need a break and just walk away for a few minutes. Unfortunately when I’m apart from the students, I can’t leave my brain behind and I carry with me the swirling thoughts in my head all day long caused by the listening to students. One way I have to cope with this is to talk with people about those thoughts, in person or on Twitter. But I actually can’t talk about all of them, so I have to choose one thing to think about and ignore everything else. There are times I have to say to students or my tutoring staff that actually no I can’t think about that right now, which is really really hard. And there are times I can manage to do an activity like origami or folding or watching tv to turn off my brain for a while to give it some rest. Still the call to listen is back again soon enough.

This isn’t a whinge session to get sympathy, it’s a warning. Be warned that if you choose to listen, you too will have to find ways to ignore some things, to find moments of brain-calm, and to find ways to process the thoughts you do choose to entertain.

Was my aim to scare you off? Certainly not! I wouldn’t ever give up listening and sacrifice the pleasure and learning I get from it, or the benefit it has for students. The blessing far outweighs the curse.

Just be prepared, ok?

This entry was posted in Being a good teacher and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses

  1. A says:

    Hey… Thank you.

  2. Perhotelan says:

    So many students you meet and the various complaints and problems they face actually want to provide solutions and methods that they can practice properly and correctly, but not all of them can be given a solution. In the end it burdens your mind that you need to put it in writing or talking to other people too.

  3. copasalpha says:

    I really enjoyed looking back at your top 10 posts and seeing the diversity.

  4. daniel oxtav says:

    great title make me read the whole thing

Leave a Reply