Leah Francis : Finding the Way contents

A Teacher

GOOD MOTHER

The principal of the school to which I was first appointed was sensitive to the needs both of students and staff. He put me at ease, encouraged my initiatives, and gave me relevant information and good advice. Yet he was quick to point out incorrect protocols, sloppiness, shoddiness and other unhelpful behaviour. He was a good mother, and became a firm friend. Some other colleagues at that school also showed me useful techniques and helped me solve problems and handle difficult situations. Some important components of "good mothering" are being observent and sensitive, diffusing anxiety, cultivating a sense of humour, discouraging pointless competition and putting things into perspective. Like the little child, the new professional is unlikely to benefit from being "thrown in at the deep end".

As a student and part-time teacher in New York I was bewildered and felt unsupported. It was easy to make friends, but not to get to know how the Academy functioned.

When I moved to Vanderbilt in Nashville Tenn, I received plenty of "mothering" for a week or so, then coped well, using my own resources. However, the professor who supervised my work tailored the courses and practicaum to meet my needs and interests, and offered plenty of encouragement.

Before I began work at the University of Western Sydney, I was warned it was "a cut-throat" environment. People were friendly and helpful, but I received no guidance regarding teaching strategies or standards, and no appraisal of the quality or appropriateness of my teaching or marking. I speak from a professional, not a personal viewpoint. In many ways the two are hardly related.

To be a "good mother" at the academy requires both generosity and restraint. If one's relationship with a colleague or student becomes too close, it can be difficult to offer critical comments, no matter how constructive.

In a short time I found I was nurturing my own graduate students. Sometimes I gave them too much support, too much nurture. Indeed, after ten years or more, some of them continue to ask for my advice.

Mothering techniques must empower and liberate others within the academy, and must not foster dependence or discipleship.

To keep one's distance is the easy approach. To enrich one's students and colleagues might be more demanding, but the fruits are richer and the satisfaction is deeper.

The bad mother remains cold, distant, unyielding, minimal.

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