“Shame, shame, shame”

Learning in front of other people can be embarrassing. This embarrassment may be too much for a student to manage comfortably and this can lead to them not achieving their potential at best and leaving the salle at worst. When considering this issue embarrassment is best considered a mild form of shame.

Shame is “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behaviour” (OED) and becomes apparent in the salle when students are trying something they find difficult, usually, but not exclusively, something new.

However it may also be something that triggers memories of past failures or difficult relationships with a mentor or teacher which will be a much deeper and harder matter to deal with. Thus the depth of shame will be directly proportional to not only the severity of the behaviour but also how long it will take to untangle the issue.

Whatever the reason, no matter how slight or severe, when a student experiences shame then there are four typical responses, as defined by D. Nathanson  using his Shame Compass, as detailed in his book “Shame and Pride”.

compassThis leads, with differing levels of manifestation and duration, to the following behaviours-

  • Withdrawal- leaving the salle temporarily or permanently is a common response to embarrassment, and in its mildest and least enduring form it will appear as a limited engagement and interaction with others in the salle. If student retention is an issue this may be the first place to look once you have considered other more practical issues
  • Avoid- removing technique from repertoire, not engaging with group or individual lessons or finding reasons to always be “elsewhere” when the psychological trigger occurs
  • Attack self- blaming self for inability, ultimately leading to negative self-talk which, if not caught promptly and dealt with, can cause further spiralling downwards and start to have an impact on other areas
  • Attack other- blaming another for their failings by lashing out, most usually by commenting on the quality of the teacher but sometimes the technique or style itself

This shame, whatever the severity, is most easily managed in three stages-

  • Recognition- spotting that this is happening, no matter how briefly, is always the first stage. Remember that these four responses also apply to teachers who may be embarrassed or doubting of their capacity and thus discount the presence of this issue rather than deal with it.
  • Acceptance- recognise that feeling shame/embarrassment is normal and can be worked with by realising that the perception of you by others is not important to your own perception of yourself. This is even more important if shaming by others is in the past and still has hold of the student’s self-esteem; ultimately it is the student holding those from the past in this position of power and thus it is they that needs to find a way to break free.
  • Support- as a teacher it is part of your role to be supportive in the moments that a student has self-doubt. Most often this will pass quickly, be easily shrugged off with a laugh or quip and matters can get back on course but in the more severe and enduring cases then it will take time and care to nurture the student through their psychological blocks until they are able to engage fully with that which is causing them difficulty. This is where the quality of your relationship will be of vital importance in getting to an OK-OK place between both you and them and them with themself.

In summary embarrassment has an impact on student retention and engagement, by recognising how it manifests behaviorally it can be dealt with effectively for the mutual development and benefit of all.

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