5. Negotiate emotions in the classroom

In terms of how students respond to the subject matter - or to having to be in a certain class at all - both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students can experience strong emotions. There may be anger or pain felt by the former, resentment or guilt felt by the latter. These emotions are understandable but should not be allowed to dominate a classroom, or be hurtful to individuals within it.

The issue of anticipating and allaying students' fears has already been discussed (see 1) In general, prevention is better than the cure. However, unexpected outbursts can always arise, and have to be managed productively in the classroom so as not to disrupt the learning of others.

What has been called 'emotional labor' in the classroom is known to be one of the more stressful dimensions of Indigenous teaching, especially (but not only) for Indigenous teachers. All practitioners new to the field will benefit from mentoring and support mechanisms as they learn the ropes. Formal training in teaching and/or professional development can also be useful strategies.

5.1 'If students say something that is inaccurate I will address this by perhaps acknowledging the common sources of misinformation, and then challenge the students to look up other sources of information that offer different perspectives or provide evidence which disproves what they are saying.' (Sydney)

5.2 'I've taught in contexts of the Stolen Generations et cetera. At one level it's important to set out the consequences of those policies and so on… But at the same time, if you're teaching Indigenous students, you have to acknowledge their responses will be different. And so I say to my Indigenous students: "You may find this material disturbing", and "You don't have to attend this lecture". It's good pedagogy to recognise these things - that knowledge is not all going to be consumed in the same way.' (Newcastle)

5.3 'Teaching those students was tougher going. You had to come back and de-brief with your colleagues about what the students there had said… Some students are angry.' [Asked how she coped with it] 'Going back to the class, I try to act happy and optimistic, as if what happened the week before hasn't fazed me. I don't want them to see I've been unnerved. I still say to them: "What do you think?" You have to engage them.' (Sydney)

5.4 'I really like those old-fashioned seminar presentations - a verbal paper and a written paper afterwards. It generates enormous conversation in tutorials. Students will collect different readings on the same topic as each other - this creates tensions, and conversations. They are rarely silent. I've had to time them, by giving them each 5 paddle pop sticks; they have to throw one into the circle each time they speak, until they use up their 5. Otherwise one or two will get fiery and dominate the conversation.' (Macquarie)

5.5 'If someone says something stereotypical, I put it out to the other students to think about, rather than taking it on myself. Other students will respond to it, but they need a comfortable space to feel free to do so. I always try to respond with empathy, that: "I can see where you are coming from, I can see why you might think that" - I try to acknowledge that there is some legitimacy to their views.' (Sydney) )

 Back to list of Exemplars