We’re English Teachers, not Psychologists… Right?

Today after school, one of my students approached me and reminded me that I was an English Teacher, not a Psychologist. This came up because the student is writing something very personal to her in the newly assigned personal narrative project. She is reluctant to get up in front of the class and share that part of herself when she can’t even be sure the other students will take her seriously and be respectful. I told her that it is a process we are all going through together–including the teachers–but that if she truly feels uncomfortable sharing, then she doesn’t have to present. But I was still struck by her insistance that I wasn’t a Psychologist so I shouldn’t be pulling these things out of her. I’m wondering if any other teachers have that same reaction from their students.

On the one hand, she is right. I am not trained in psychology and I wouldn’t know where to begin counselling her if her narrative became dangerously emotional or serious. The classes in psychology i have taken prepared me to become a teacher, but not to provide therapy. Furthermore, since I am a long term sub who came into my position a few weeks before April Break, I have been met with some resistance from the students in regards to them respecting and trusting me. The only thing I could do if the class got into subject matter that I thought was too heavy is redirect the conversation, recommend students go to the counsellor if necessary, and kick out students who are being flagrantly disrespectful.

But there is more to it than that. Even though I am not a trained Psychologist, I am a trained English Teacher. As a teacher, I have to instruct students on how to express themselves, how to access their personal feelings and put them down on paper (or whatever medium they choose in the case of this project). Their educational experience should be genuine and encouraging someone to shy away from a difficult topic because it is difficult condones that student to sell themselves short. In my school, and hopefully in most schools, there are many resources available for me and for a student if they need to discuss their problems or feelings, and I have confidence in how and when to use them.

By having students go through this process together, my goal is to bring them closer and transform my classroom into a place of mutual trust and respect, (right in time for the end of the year…) something I feel is lacking in this cohort of 9th graders. It will be a good way for them to transition into 10th grade and to recognize the maturity that will be expected of them as they continue in their journey through high school.

This is my first post to the NWP online blog. I recently was chosen to participate in the Genesee Valley Writing Project based out of the University of Rochester. Though I haven’t started the summer program yet, I wanted to start blogging and getting to know what I can expect from my new community of writing educators.

I am hoping that this first post will be an opportunity for me to reflect upon my own practices and hear advice from seasoned professionals. I look forward to using this outlet in the future.