What Bringing Two Cats Together May Have Taught Me About Student Relationships | Lesson 3

Over the last two weeks, I have looked at how bringing cats together takes time and can’t be rushed. The cats need to be kept apart for a while so that they can become familiar with having the other one around. And, when they’re ready, they’ll come together.

It’s been over seven weeks now, and we’re not much closer to getting the cats together. Maybe we are closer than we think, but the signs that we are seeing tell us that we have a long journey ahead of us.

In any case, let’s take a look at the third lesson that I’ve learned. If you want to catch up, check out Lesson 1 and Lesson 2 before reading on.

Some Hide, Others Hunt

Riel, originally my cat, is active and playful. He has a lot of energy and is not afraid to let you know when he needs to burn some of it off. Sometimes, I’ll watch him as he’s running circuits around the house – running down the hallway, jumping on and off the couch, scurrying under the bed, and then jumping up on the dining room chairs. He’ll nip at my ankles if he’s in the mood for a personal trainer.

Mikka, still my girlfriend’s cat, is a lot calmer. Much calmer. The only thing he puts his all into is eating. And, boy, can he eat. He jumps up on to the couch to find a cozy place to sit, on to the desk chair, then the desk, then the kitchen counter to get at food, or on to the bed to sleep restfully between the pillows. Without any teeth, it’s hard for him to do much biting but he still tries when he’s had enough of me petting him.

Bringing the two together is tricky because Riel will go after Mikka. He just will. I think he just wants to play; he may want to fight, though. Mikka will run away and hide, Riel will give chase, and then I’ll step in and take Riel away because I feel bad for the fearful Mikka. Truthfully, I have no clear idea about how each of them feels because I can’t have a conversation with either of them.

Students act in similar ways. They use behaviours to communicate emotions that they can’t or won’t convey through language. Some students will retreat to a corner with a book and others will use their index finger to jab the person sitting in front of them in the back. When I ask students what is wrong, I often get an answer synonymous with, “Nothing.”

What-the-what? You’re hiding in a corner. You’re poking people. And, you’re telling me that nothing is wrong. Foolish me for asking, I should have known better.

Maybe I’m asking a foolish question. No matter how sincerely and calmly I ask, “What’s wrong with you?”, what students might be hearing is, “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU hashtag emoji emoji?” Instead, maybe offering my support by simply saying something similar to, “When you’re ready, I’d like to speak with you about this situation,” would be a better approach.

After the cats have had a meeting, they are amped up and exhausted. It’ll take a while for Mikka to come out from hiding and for Riel to settle down and curl up. When they finally do, they each take a nap. Only after their naps are they each ready to sit next to us and enjoy a nice pet. Similarly, students, like all people, need some time to let their emotions ease before they are ready to reflect critically on a situation that disturbed them. After a time, the length of which is particular to each student, they will be ready to sit down with me and talk about what happened.

My goal is never to change who students are but to help support them in approaching challenging situations with the skills that they possess. This may require further developing certain skills, explaining how certain skills can be used, or encouraging them to combine skills that they have not used together.

I certainly won’t be able to change the personality of the cats. What I can do is continue to work with them and inch them toward each other at a pace that is comfortable for them. Ultimately, we have to remain patient with the process, knowing that each of the cats has their own needs.

What Bringing Two Cats Together May Have Taught Me About Student Relationships | Lesson 3
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