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When you hear … by Tracey Collett

Do you ever have the experience when you're in a huge medical programmes management meeting (say) and everybody is there who is involved in the curriculum: managers, clinicians scientists, public health officials, students, administrators … and a colleague says proudly that they would like to introduce a student presentation? The student stands up and you hear them explain to the whole meeting of 20 odd people that (say) there is no teaching on non-binary pronouns, that this is a disgrace, that this is a real omittance, that it is backwards looking, especially as the General Medical Council stipulates it, that it is very damaging to the future health of the country. And the student says that this is, this is no good and they do have one pithy workshop in year one that's quite good and they have a special studies unit that's okay, but other than that it’s incredible how the medical school could let this happen.

You sit there and your heart sinks. You are a dedicated teacher who works over overtime ‘and some’ in order to ensure that the sociology is in the curriculum, under demanding circumstances and in the context of extreme competition for teaching space. You feel that everybody's eyes are on you. You feel that the student is saying ‘you didn't work hard enough’ and ‘look everybody this is rubbish’ and you feel that everybody else is thinking ‘but surely we've got a social science teacher, surely they could do better than that!’ Everyone praises the student and everyone agrees that everything will be done to rectify the situation.

I’m not going to be afraid to admit that this was my private emotional response in a meeting yesterday. In ’The Courage to Teach’, Parker Palmer, is one of the few authors to note the importance of acknowledging the crucial role of the embodied self in teaching. My emotions are intricately bound up with my teaching: imposter syndrome, insecurity, tiredness, anxiety all feature (there are good things too I should say).

I sat in the meeting mortified, dealing with my emotions working out what to think. Why am reacting like this? After all this happens a lot.

SO ….. okay …okay … breathe in, slowly. I breathe. I realise: actually this isn't about me. I realise that actually I need to harness my emotions and switch them. ‘This is a good thing. This is a great thing!’. ‘This isn't about my teaching, this is about the whole curriculum’. ‘It is about gender issues in clinical skills, in science teaching, on student ward rounds and so on’. I realise that actually I need to detach myself from what I'm feeling and recognise the immense value of the students’ input (people listen)! I need to enhance this and push forward in response.

Ego dealt with, as chair of the committee, I ensure that pronouns are on the agenda of each of the 6 or so curriculum working groups that meet next month. (‘Yes now pronouns are on the agenda of the clinical skills team, the life sciences team, the assessment team!) and each team needs to report back to the committee about what they've done. I'm pulling with the student and with the member of staff to send sociology into the curriculum: a whole school approach.

We make a good deal about complexity in relation to health and health care practice. This scenario to me also illustrates the complexity of education and that education, like health (and everything really) is very much a social phenomena.

To all social science and psychology teachers out there. I salute you and your courage to teach.

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