While I was teaching, there were tons of motivational posters that hung around my room, but one of my favorite ones read “Bad attitudes are like flat tires; you can’t go anywhere until you change them.” I liked it so much because it hit pretty close to home with me. It is SO incredibly easy to let all the little things of this life get us down, isn’t it? You see, I had fallen into that trap too, and perhaps that is why that poster meant so much to me. My first year of teaching was incredibly rough, and in that whole rough year was one class that was especially tough. In it, were a few students that were incredibly negative. Many of my conversations with my co-workers were negative. There was SO much that I was responsible for, I just felt incredibly overwhelmed. I was getting up at 5:30 am and working till probably around 9:00 pm every night. I was exhausted, and I still felt like I did not have enough hours in the day to get it all done. So I started to complain. Have you ever been there? I felt like I was working my tail off, I was giving my all and it wasn’t enough and no one appreciated me. There seemed to be no light at the end of the tunnel. My morning commute was always spent praying, “Dear Lord, please help me to get through this day!” Sometimes, that day seemed really long at the beginning, and sometimes in between classes it was a silent, “Dear Lord, please help me get through this class!” How much learning was taking place? Some, probably, yes, but there could have been a lot more. You see, attitudes are catching and my bad attitude spread faster than the common cold.
I had a dream, though, and I still believed in it. I kept trying day after day, hour after hour and I learned a LOT. I think I learned more than the students did that year. My dream was that I wanted to make a difference one person at a time, one student at a time. I thought if I could possibly make a difference in the life of ONE person, then it would be worth it. What is your dream? What are you trying to accomplish in life and in your job?
The next year, I decided to go forth with a much better attitude. It was kind of as an experiment for myself, but also because I was tired of being miserable every day. So, I walked into the room on my first day of school with a “Good morning! I’m so glad to be here and I’m so glad you’re in my classroom! We are going to learn a lot and this is what I expect from you.” It was a totally different year. Instead of my praying “Dear Lord, let me get through this day,” it was “Dear Lord, please help me to inspire these students. Help me to make a difference in their lives. Please help me to be a good an effective teacher. Help them to learn the lessons, but most of all, Lord, help me to love them like you love them.”
The difference was amazing. The students seemed happier when they came into my room. They were nicer to one another, there were fewer problems. I could trust them more to do what they were supposed to do. It was a community environment instead of “It’s us vs. you.” We all felt like players on the same team. They tried harder, they asked more questions, they were more involved. With my fellow teachers, there were still complaints, yes. We were still overworked with too much responsibility for a single person, but we vented to one another and then we encouraged one another. I’m not saying that things were perfect because they weren’t. Some days my attitude was still “I don’t want to be here.” I also learned that not only are attitudes, good or bad, catching but so is enthusiasm. I tried to teach each lesson as if it was really interesting to me. I started off faking it, but as I started doing it, something happened and I really did start enjoying it. I started thinking about how I could make the lessons BETTER. I took one lesson on the history of chemistry and took it from a 3-day lesson that drug on and on to a one day lesson that was much more effective that the kids remembered. (Ask any of the students in my 8th-grade science class who did the experiment with the gold foil. I bet they still remember it and can tell you that it was Rutherford after 10 years.)
Are you where I was? Is your classroom drudgery? Are you going from one day to the other feeling like a zombie (or a Mom-bie, if you have kids). Here are a few concrete things that you can try in your classroom.
- Have a pet name for your students. Refer to them in a positive manner. Mine was “Good morning, Wonderful Ones!” I know it sounds cheesy, but it made a difference even to my Junior and Senior students
- Positive reinforcement. Recognize them for doing good things. It does not have to be costly or complicated. I had a very cheap sticker book and when someone answered a question correctly, I gave them a sticker. If they said, “yes, ma’am.” Sometimes I would give them a sticker. If they did really well on a paper, I would give them a sticker. If they improved their grade, I gave them a sticker. I tried to make it where it was not JUST the kids that were the “smart ones” or that got the stickers, but where it was sometimes the kids that usually got overlooked. It will not motivate all of them, but it will some. I was surprised that kids that age were motivated by stickers, but the girls decided to put them on their binders to decorate them, and the guys like getting the stickers so they could give them to the girls.
- Set your expectations firmly at the beginning of the year and stick to them. Love them, but tough love. Don’t let them get by with things that are in violation of what you set forth at the beginning of the year.
- Sticky notes. If you see a student that is obviously upset, you can unobtrusively walk by and drop a sticky note on their desk that says “You ok?” or “Hope your day gets better.”
- Give them a job. Every year, I had a student on my roster that I had heard about before or I had someone tell me “Watch out for that one!” For starters, I did not pay that much attention to it. Just because a student gave another teacher trouble does not mean that his or her personality will interact with yours the same way. The second thing I did was I gave them a job. It could be “Please get the textbooks down for me and put them in a stack so I can issue them out.” Or it could be “You look like you are (fill in the blank with a good adjective). I am going to put you in charge of (again, fill in the blank) for (time frame.)
For example: “Angie, you look like the responsible type. I’m going to put you in charge of feeding the fish this week. Be sure you only give them a very small pinch of food once a day.”
- Most Importantly, LOVE THEM. This one cannot be faked. They will know, but when it’s real, they also know that. Act happy to see them when you run into them at Walmart. Let them know that you care about them. Focus on their strengths. Look for the good. Because when you LOOK for it, you will be amazed at what you can find.
Here’s to hoping you have a wonderful and Positive School year!
P. S. Even if you don’t have a classroom, and you are a parent, all these tips still work!