Training Resilience

I first encountered the idea of resilience as a construct in Resilience: Queer Professors from the Working Class. It is cast there--and in other books with words like "trauma" in the title--as a personality trait that can only be achieved retroactively. That is, you can't just decide to be resilient. It's like the Greek idea of honor. You can't bestow honor on yourself. Someone else has to give it to you. And if my quickie lit review gives any sketch to the theoretical landscape, pain gives us resilience. There's no prior method, no preceding knowledge. Resilience is the outcome of cumulative painful negotiations. (I am not, by the way, in agreement that "that which does not kill us makes us stronger." In fact, that which does not kill us makes us too weak to fend off the next attack.)

I'm unsatisfied with the idea that we can't--that I can't--operationalize coping enough to make it pedagogically useful. What I see is that many good young teachers leave teaching before they've developed the resilience it requires. The burnout rate for public school teachers is still something like three years. (And with as many strictures as they face, it's no wonder.) In many cases, resilience can mask psychologically dangerous situations, but it's a fact of teaching: there's risk, emotional and psychological, so there's the potential for trauma (such as it is; ask me how I feel about blue-collar jobs and injuries if you really want to know how I feel).

The best methods I can come up with for training resilience in new teachers are 1) authentic professional development and 2) collaboration; that is, by asking young scholars to engage in the types of situations they would as professionals, they take risks and develop resilience, because rejection is a fact. I was crushed when someone said something snarky to me at my first academic conference. Now, though, not so much. But it took many conferences, many perceived slights, endless agonized evenings over student papers and emails--running class discussions through my memory to focus in on potential problems--to get there. I'm poking my way through Collaborative Resilience: Moving through Crisis to Opportunity (Goldstein 2012) tonight, and it seems that community is as important as ever. Community in my context implicates cohort building and peer mentoring. I hope I'm offering analog opportunities to my students, but it's nice to get confirmation that our approach is useful beyond community building.

No comments: