Should candles consume themselves for others?

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Several times recently I’ve witnessed resistance- pushback- from teachers expressing their dislike of the quote from which this blog got its name.

They say that good teachers should not have to consume themselves to light the way for others.

I agree, but also I don’t.

I don’t think that it’s healthy to advocate that teachers give up all work-life balance in order to do their job well. To imply that if you aren’t going home each day feeling completely overwhelmed, then you aren’t really doing everything you can.

In fact, I don’t think teachers CAN do their job well if they’re not happy and healthy. After all, if your own tank isn’t full, so to speak, what do you have to offer to those thirsty little sponges in your care?

What I think is not taken into consideration, however, in the whole candle consuming itself to light the way for others business, is that a teacher’s wax supply is not finite. Or at least it’s not unreplenishable.

I would argue that the only way you’ll survive a teaching career, long term, is if you let your pupils consume themselves to light the way for you, too. https://ateacherislikeacandle.wordpress.com/2020/07/24/candles-as-marvellers-of-children/

Because education is a tough, tough job. It is exhausting, unrelenting, and every day presents a different test. Working with little humans, each entirely unique, is by its very nature, fraught with challenge.

So how do you let the learners also be the candles, you ask?

Firstly, be selective in what you take to heart. Don’t take anything negative personally, especially student behaviour. Kids are kids, with their own struggles and hormones and insecurities and they may lash out at you in their frustration, their confusion, their grief. This is not about you, it’s about them.

If, however, you overhear them telling their peers how nice it is that you don’t ever yell, if they give you a furtive smile as they walk out the door, or leave a sweet message for you in the margin of their workbook, lap it all up. When they hang around after school to tell you a story about their pet cat because they know you’re a feline lover, let it replenish your candle wax supplies.

Secondly, let them make you laugh. When that kid (and there’s one in every class) says something hilariously clever and witty that causes giggles to burst out around the room, instead of shutting it down and moving on, embrace it. Enjoy a good belly laugh and add to your candle provisions.

Thirdly, always remember that your job is to promote learning. If a student in your class misbehaves in a specialist lesson, see it for what it is- a learning opportunity. If you class lets you down by forgetting their manners with a supply teacher, or not performing as they should have on a test, see the silver lining. Now you know which direction your next lessons should take. Now you can think up exciting and innovative ways to teach them something that they clearly don’t have down pat. Now you have a purpose!

In this way, any candle self-consumption will be targeted towards getting the best results for everyone involved, rather than whittling your light with anxieties, insecurities and guilts about your worthlessness or ineffectiveness as an educator.

Fourthly, take every opportunity you can to put things into perspective. Know that your responsibility is big and that your impact is even bigger. But also remember that your kids are only your kids for a short while, that they have a whole lifetime of learning ahead of them. That what matters most is that you care.

Talk to nurses, refugees, the homeless. Travel. Recognise how big the world is. Be humble. A good candle should consume itself, to a degree, in order to light the way for others. Real learning happens when children have a connection with their teacher.

Let the thought of consuming yourself to light the way for others be a comfort, not pressure. Let it remind you that all that you do, the price we all pay for our profession, matters. That it’s worthwhile.

So give students love and let it fill their hearts. But make sure you allow them to fill your heart too.

That way your candle will never die out.

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