Counsellor: Good afternoon to you both. I know we’ve been here together many times before, but I think it’s important that before we begin we remind ourselves of some ground rules for what is said in here. The first thing to note is that coming to counselling is a step in the right direction. It shows that both of you understand that there is something valuable in your relationship, something worth repairing and nurturing. The second thing is that this is a safe place. There are no bad thoughts or feelings. This is a place where you can express yourself without fear of recrimination. Does that make sense to you both?
Counsellor: Let’s start by discussing your most recent disagreement. Has there been anything that has caused some tension?
Trad: Not recently.
Prog: Well, there was something, but it’s silly really. We got into a fight…
Trad: It wasn’t a fight.
Prog: Fair enough. There was some tension about our classroom displays. I merely spent a couple of hours…
Trad: More like a couple of days.
Prog: I spent some time making my classroom look warm and inviting for the children that I teach, and when I started showing a few pictures and videos of it, you’d think the world was about to end.
Trad: But it’s such a waste of time. Think of the cognitive load for the children. It’s all for show.
Prog: Well, you’re just as bad. Showing off to your colleagues about how sparsely decorated your classroom is. Maybe you would like to work somewhere that’s sterile and unstimulating, but that’s not what I want for my class. It’s just another example of a secondary teacher telling a primary teacher how to do their job.
Trad: Plenty of primary teachers agree with me.
Counsellor: Can I pause you both for a second? I’d like to see if we can unpick what’s really being said here. I hope you don’t mind me saying, but this disagreement seems to be similar to the rest.
Trad: The rest?
Counsellor: Yes. The arguments about behaviour, pedagogy, outdoor poetry recitals, velociraptors… It’s the same underlying cause. The one that I mention every week.
Counsellor: Exactly. Well remembered. Can you see where I’m coming from?
Counsellor: Allow me to explain. Think back to our first session. Why do you think the discussion of zero tolerance got so tense?
Trad: Because it really matters. It’s kids’ futures we’re talking about here.
Prog: Absolutely. The idea of children being stifled by authoritarian…
Trad: Oh, here we go again.
Counsellor: Pause! The reason why behaviour is such a tense issue is not its importance. It is that it relates to your own personal insecurities. For one of you, the discussion of behaviour often seems to invalidate the kindness and attention that you have dedicated to your students and implies that you and your school have failed children by not providing the tough love that allows children to flourish. For the other one of you, the discussion sometimes implies that you simply aren’t compassionate enough at the moment to be a good teacher and that you systematically dehumanise children. You can pretend that you’re both so offended out of a sense of duty towards the children you teach – you’re good people, after all – but I don’t think that this is the root cause. The only way through these muddles is to be open about exactly what it is that makes each issue so fraught.
Trad: I don’t buy it.
Prog: Me neither.
Counsellor: Bear with me. Let’s talk displays. I think that one of you sees other people’s beautiful, intricate displays and is forced to face the hours of work that you can’t or won’t do; you imagine the headteacher peeking into both classrooms and judging you as less conscientious; you see the race to the bottom and – more importantly – that inescapable fear that you’re being judged.
Trad: I don’t care what other people’s classrooms look like.
Counsellor: I don’t think that’s true. Your classroom is plain because of your own personal preference. Your neighbour has bought a Ferrari and – while you convince yourself and anyone who’ll listen that you’re above such materialistic demonstrations – deep down it gnaws at you a little.
Trad: But…but…cognitive load!
Cousellor: Just let what I’ve said sink in for a moment.
Prog: You’re so right.
Counsellor: And the other one of you has spent tens if not hundreds of hours over your career making classrooms look pretty and colourful. To be told that this might have been a waste of time is probably upsetting.
Prog: I don’t mind at all. Like you say, it’s just personal preference. I like a welcoming, colourful classroom.
Counsellor: Indeed. And why did you take all those photos and videos?
Prog: No reason really. The displays took a lot of hard work, and I like how it looks.
Counsellor: And why did you share it with everyone?
Prog: Um…I guess I wanted to give ideas to anyone who was stuck for what to do in their classroom. Yes, that was it.
Counsellor: Really? Was that your central motivation? Was it not, perhaps, that you felt understandably proud of what you’d achieved? Perhaps you shared your classroom in the same way that others post about their holiday or their house or their restaurant dinner or their five-mile run. Social media has conditioned you to instinctively share things about which you are proud. Have you ever questioned that instinct?
Counsellor: Have you ever considered the possibility that sharing anything on the basis of pride is always, by definition, going to take a small bite out of the self-esteem of some other people. Surely, you’ve taught kids who loudly declare, “My drawing is amazing. I’m such a talented artist.” How do these children make the rest feel?
Prog: This is totally different. I didn’t claim that what I’d done was anything special or that anyone who hadn’t done something like this was somehow less of a dedicated teacher than I. That’s not on me. That’s just other people’s insecurities talking.
Counsellor: Indeed. And you’ve just learned that some people are insecure about their classroom displays and the feeling of judgement that comes with them. Perhaps you’ve also learned that showing off about pretty much anything – however seemingly harmless – always makes someone, somewhere feel a bit crappy. If you still want to show off something, maybe you just have to take this reality on the chin.
Trad: Hang on! I didn’t feel “crappy” about their display looking so colourful and inviting. It has nothing to do with a feeling of inferiority.
Counsellor: Sure it doesn’t. We’ve been here before. If you don’t open up a little about the insecurities that underpin your stake in each disagreement, we’ll never get anywhere. Anyway, that’s our time. See you next week.
(Trad and Prog step outside the counsellor’s office.)
Prog: That guy is the worst.
Trad: Tell me about it. “Ooh, I think I understand why Edutwitter is so needlessly combative.” The arrogance of him!
Prog: Yep. People like that who try to position themselves above the fray are just painfully condescending. I’ll bet you twenty quid that he even writes a blog.
Trad: Oh, totally. He’s probably had about four people compliment him out of politeness, and now he’s self-indulgently messing about with the format.
Prog: Ugh, sounds ghastly. Who’d want to read that?