I’m mid flow explaining a complex topic. An Ofsted Inspector is in the room. A hand goes up, ‘please can I go to the toilet Miss?’
Over the time span of nearly 20 years of teaching young adults aged 11-18 years I had never refused a young adult the request to go to the toilet. Although at the time I did not have the ‘education’ around the importance of bodily comfort, autonomy, agency, dignity and the necessity to meet all bodily needs for successful learning, I felt that using the toilet when requested was a basic human right and a potential trigger point for trauma and shame for the youngster, so the answer was always an unequivocal, yes, of course. Not a ‘can you wait until break?’ or ‘ask again in 5 minutes if you still need to go’ which I had heard some of my other colleagues say. Granted ‘permission’ had never been abused. No adolescent had left the school site, smoked in the toilets, or truanted after asking to use the toilet, as the fear based rhetoric of others suggested might happen.
On this particular day, I noticed however, that the yes, of course, was not automatic. This day I hesitated.
The expectation and perceived threat in my body of the ‘judgement’ of the Inspector, on the decision I was about to make, created even more activation in my already excessively stimulated sympathetic nervous system. My mind raced. Would this mean the lesson would be graded unsatisfactory? Would the answer yes be a safeguarding issue? Would I be put on capability? Clarity of thought, ordinarily connected to my embodied moral compass was absent. I froze, a rabbit in headlights, unsure what to do and where to go with the decision.
I had no ‘gut instinct’ available to me to guide the decision. I was chronically stressed and overworked middle leader in education, experiencing a school inspection process that had pushed my nervous system completely beyond capacity and making this simple decision. I struggled to get back into my body, to bring cognition back on board, to say yes or no.
That was the moment I knew I was breaking down. I had lost my footing and my stress pot was full.
Back to the classroom. The girl was teary. I knew she was embarrassed to have to ask in front of the strange man sat behind her, watching us all. Empathy returned. My heart expanded and start to beat. ‘Of course you can’, I said.
Image Arna Baartz Artist https://arnabaartz.com.au/