Dear Vicki: My high school senior is having problems with one of her teachers. I know, what high school student doesn’t have teacher problems, right? But my concern is that the dynamic between Jillian and Mr. Smith could set a tone for the rest of Jillian’s educational life. She’s an outgoing, fun-loving, teenager who excels at the more social aspects of high school like cheerleading and parties, but generally gets respectable grades. Mr. Smith is deliberate (Jillian calls him boring), thoughtful, and what I would call deep. Jillian finds his history class boring and thinks everything about him is a “total downer” (other than the fact that he frequently lets them out of class early). Consequently, she isn’t doing well in the class. I don’t want to let her drop it, but is there some way to help her appreciate his deep approach to learning? Signed, A Concerned Mom
Dear Concerned Mom: Bless you for caring enough to help your daughter understand her teacher instead of just letting her bolt from the class. I think there is a definite possibility of offering Jillian a lesson in relationship dynamics as you assist her in better understanding her history teacher. Here’s how you might approach the situation.
Based on how you and Jillian describe him, it seems pretty likely that Mr. Smith is a Water personality. Water people are deep and thoughtful, love pondering the greater truths of the world, and often use wisdom from the past to inform current and future learning. Jillian, on the other hand, sounds like a Fire personality. Fires love socializing, being the focus of attention, and standing out in a crowd. If we use the Five Elements model, we will see that Jillian and Mr. Smith relate to each other via the Controlling Cycle where his Water energy controls her Fire energy. Few Fire people like having Water rain on their parade, so it’s understandable that Jillian reacts negatively to Mr. Smith.
The other important dynamic in this relationship is that fact that Mr. Smith teaches history. Fire people are all about the here and now, so to them history is just facts and figures about an old and irrelevant past. This means that we really have two issues that need to be addressed to support Jillian staying in her history class: 1) helping her manage learning from someone on her elemental Controlling Cycle, and 2) helping her find some value in history. And honestly, neither will be as hard to accomplish as they sound.
First, I suggest a brief talk (do keep it short for a teenage Fire personality) with Jillian regarding people and personalities. Ask her what she likes about her friends (as a Fire, she is sure to have plenty of them). Help her see how some of what she likes in others are personality traits that are very different from her. This will be an important awareness for your daughter. Our world needs more tolerance these days and that starts with understanding. Hopefully, you will be able to identify some positive Water traits (inspiration, creativity, fluidity, etc.) in several of her friends and point these out so Jillian can see their value.
Then, help Jillian recognize some of these same positive Water traits – possibly in more adult versions – in Mr. Smith. For example, perhaps Jillian has a friend who has trouble honoring rules. This is common for Water people because they are so fluid, they have a hard time with structure and boundaries. Interestingly, Mr. Smith shows this same disregard for structure in his willingness to dismiss class early when he feels like it. Perhaps you can find other positive Water aspects in Mr. Smith’s behavior to share with Jillian, as well. The goal is to help her see him in his totally, not just as the slower, Watery parts of him that are such a downer to her.
Second, on a different day, initiate a discussion with Jillian regarding the unlikely (to her) possibility that theory, history, and ideas are all very important in life, even though they won’t be high on the list for a teenage Fire. You can point out that to celebrate in the now (which Fire people love to do), someone had to conceptualize and plan for it based on the past. For example, if you give Jillian a scarf for her birthday this year that matches the favorite sweater you gave her last year, the history of her loving a sweater informed the gift of the scarf she received this year.
This is a bit abstract, I know, but it will be a good awareness for any Fire to start realizing that “now” isn’t all there is; it’s just part of a continuum stretching from the past to the present to the future. Learning to honor the past as the creator of the now is a huge step for any Fire person. If Jillian can wrap her mind around this, it might help her appreciate history more. It will certainly put history in a new light. After all, every historical moment was once a “now.”
Finally, remember that in the Five Elements model, Controlling Cycle relationships are not just about control; they are also about support. They help assure that we stay in balance, which is a huge gift. Your little Fire will need the cooling comfort of Water energy many, many times in her future. And since she’s going to do this Fire/Water dance all of her life, this is an excellent opportunity to help her appreciate such an important aspect of her teacher. Good luck!