..except when it is explicitly my job.
I teach microscopy in my day job as a microscopy officer. I teach when I walk into the charity I (used to) volunteer for on the days I’ve agreed to be a trainer. Outside of these two times, where it is explicitly my job to teach – it isn’t my job to teach.
I realise I have a problem with inevitably teaching where it isn’t my job – when I start burning out from it. What do I teach? I teach diversity and inclusion. I teach empathy and acceptance. I teach people that the world isn’t as simple as they think it is, that life isn’t as straightforward as they wish it is.
The LGBT+ charity I volunteered for had a diversity problem. Not enough visibility of the ‘B’s, not enough representation of the ‘T’s, and generally dismal performance when it came to recruiting minority ethnic people. They even had dismal numbers of women, but that improved in the few years I was there. So what do I find myself doing? Teaching people about why recruitment of the underrepresented populations is such a problem – and that ends up being a long lesson on what the privilege ladder is, and why it affects recruitment for the charity. Oh, and why it is important to collect information on why people leave.
I can’t help it, I am from a diverse, underrepresented population, and I try to be a well read, informed, educated intersectional feminist. I don’t expect other people to be as informed, but at the same time, if they are willing to learn, I like to think I’m willing to teach. Except… sometimes that burns me out. When it happens again and again and again and again, it wears me out.. and in the end, I have to take a break.
I left that charity a month ago. I burnt out. I need to spend my time and my energies on getting my BA in Counselling… and yet… it is happening again.
My counselling course had a very cohesive group last year, and we learnt a lot together. This year’s group is partly old, partly new, and we haven’t learn about each other yet. Last weekend’s module was on ethics, which inevitably brings up sensitive topics such as sexual deviance and suicide – topics I feel strongly about. Unfortunately… people without any background knowledge of me, who does not know why I have a in-depth knowledge of sexual health, sexual deviance, and the legal issues surrounding such – are prone to questioning WHY I have the knowledge.
The question makes me feel cornered.
Even though I don’t hide it. I wear rainbows in my hair and blue-purple-pink badges on my bag. I talk about bisexuality and polyamory as if it is everyday for me. Well, it IS everyday for me. My group last year heard me speak about the helpline I volunteered for, about how people, sometimes teenagers, who have no other safe source of sexual health information, phone the helpline, about how it makes me feel, about the good it does. But not everyone from year 2 knows my background… and so they question.
I don’t hide it – but the question makes me feel cornered. The way it was asked made me feel defensive, like it was something I was expected to be ashamed about – and I am not. Maybe I do have issues around shame, and maybe this is all me. But.. despite feeling these defensiveness, I still offer a friendly hand, I say – if you want to know anything else, ask me after class, I am happy to share.
Again I offered to teach.
What is sexual deviance? What is sexual normalcy? Shouldn’t we, as counsellors in training, be completely open about sex? Shouldn’t we be prepared to deal with sexual shame in our clients? Yet… if we ourselves are not ready to talk about sex frankly, how do we expect to be able to help clients with sexual shame or sexual repression?
I want to say all this to them, but again, this is teaching. Instead I write in my learning journal that I should look at the good side of this. If my fellow counsellors can’t deal with sexual repression… they can refer those clients to me. More business for me right?
But no – I cannot feel good about this. I cannot feel good knowing that even counsellors training in 2017 are not dealing with sexual shame & repression. I have talked to far too many people for whom this is a problem, who might go for counselling, who might then be faced with a counsellor who isn’t equipped to deal with the problem, who might then never get the help they need. I do not and cannot feel good about this. But I can only say to myself – it isn’t my job to teach. I am a student in the class, like everyone else, and it isn’t my job to teach.
The other ethical topic we talked about last week was suicide, when to report, when not to. I had a very idealistic young coursemate whose view was very much along the lines of ‘99.999% of all suicides are circumstantial and can be stopped if the circumstances change’. Erm.. my dear little friend – you may be right, but all you are is a therapist, not a magician. If clients are in so much despair, whether from illness, poverty, addiction, or anything else which is circumstantial – there is NOTHING the therapist can do to change the circumstance… so saying that doesn’t really help. This coursemate also said to me “give me one example where nothing can be done, there is always something which can be done”. My heroine, my idol, my sibbling-in-another-life Leelah Alcorn, I thank you for being my example, and I am sorry I had to talk about you.
Why does this coursemate repeatedly corner me, why do they keep asking me questions? It isn’t my job to teach. I can’t help but teach, but it burns me out, it frustrates me. I am there as a student, I am there to learn, I am there to improve on my skills as a counsellor, and to build my own self awareness. I am not there to teach. I blame them for being frustrating, but it is my problem too. If I don’t offer to teach, people will stop expecting me to.
This post is about my self awareness. It is me, repeating to myself, for the gazillionth time in two months….. it isn’t my job to teach.