I have been in education now, for over 40 years. Especially now, it is so very easy to get mired down in all the negativity that is associated with education. I know, as many of those issues are what drove me out of the classroom after 33 years as a math teacher. This is the perfect blog for November as this is the month that many people celebrate Thanksgiving. As teachers, we all must celebrate and be thankful for the positives. We do not do this enough.
When was the last time you called a parent to tell them that their child was a pleasure to have in class and represents themselves and their parents in such a positive way? When was the last time you went out of your way not just to celebrate the A’s and B’s students earned on a quiz or test but also the student who made significant progress in the scores that they earned? Do you ever stand at your classroom door and complement the students that are dressed appropriately as they come into class? Do you comment to the students about their positive attitude or smiles when you are walking around the classroom? Hopefully this blog posts will remind all of us to do these little glimpses of thankfulness regularly with our students.
I know how easy it is to focus on all the problems and issues that exist in education these days. I must remind myself on a regular basis to stop focusing on the negative and remember why I choose to be an educator in the first place. It was NOT to call out students who were not doing the work or behaving in an inappropriate manner. It was to help ALL students succeed and fulfill their greatest potential. Yet we forget that the majority of our students are doing what they are supposed to be doing and are pleasures to have in class. Please do not think I am saying students are perfect. None of us are. I am also not saying to ignore the students who are behaving inappropriately, are not doing their work, or performing well below their abilities and potential. We want every student to succeed and do well and yet we fixate on the students doing poorly and forget about the many that are doing well.
What I am trying to say here is spend at least as much time, and preferably more time, recognizing the students are doing what they should be doing and are performing up to their abilities. Here is a very simple rule I tried to follow when I was in the classroom. For every parent I had to contact for an issue we were having in class with a student, I would follow that phone call with calls to parents of two other students who were doing very well and were a pleasure to have in class.
Positive Phone Calls
You will not believe how much better you feel after making the two positive phone calls as compared to dealing with the first phone call about an issue you were having in class. I will say I never once had a parent yell at me or blame me for telling them that their child was a delight to have in class and was doing everything they were supposed to do. Matter of fact many times a day or two after I called parents for positive things their child had done, an administrator commented to me, when they saw me, that they had received a message from a parent about the first time they had ever been contacted by a teacher for their child being wonderful! That word does get around and it is an extremely good thing when a teacher gets a reputation for contacting parents when good things happen.
Another little trick, that will absolutely stun a dean or administrator, is when you write a referral on a student for them doing something outstanding in your class, with another student, or at school in general. Many of the interactions deans and administrators have with students focus on behavioral or academic issues the student is having. I had to laugh when a dean at the high school where I was teaching came down to my classroom and shook my hand and complimented me for sending them the first formal referral, where the student had been outstanding and not a problem. They said it was so refreshing to deal with someone being great as opposed to always having to deal with a student who was being a problem. The dean gave the student a $10 School Cafeteria Gift Card for Ice Cream and Cookie Treats. That same student spread the word that they had a teacher “write them up” for being good. It was amazing how much of a difference that made in my classes.
Teachers must deal with students not turning in their work, but we forget students don’t just live for our classes. I know that is surprising to many teachers, but it is true! Students have lives outside our class. Many are in sports, choir, band, drama, have jobs, or other hobbies and activities. When was the last time you attended a student’s athletic event just to watch them play? When was the last time you went to a band or choir concert to see your student perform? When was the last time you watched a school play where you had students performing or were members of the crew? I attended a student’s dance recital once and you cannot believe how much the student and their parents appreciated seeing me there. That student’s grade in my class went up over a half a letter grade because that student wanted to do their very best for the teacher that had come to watch them dance. If you attend a football game you may or may not be noticed (surprisingly, you usually are .) When you attend an Academic Superbowl contest, a Science Fair, or a Tennis Match, I guarantee you will be noticed and graciously thanked for coming and supporting your students.
We do not celebrate all the good things that are happening nearly enough. The students who are in extracurricular activities and yet rarely miss an assignment and are doing well in your class. By well, I do not mean A or an A+! I am talking about earning a C or better in your class. Sometimes we forget that students are just as busy as we are with everything they do outside of the classroom. So often, we forget, students are taking 5, 6, or 7 classes every day. They have family responsibilities like taking care of siblings before and after school or a job or the myriad of other commitments outside of school. The point is students today are far busier in general than they ever have been in the past. Showing that you care about the students, both in the classroom and outside of school, is the absolute best investment you can make in creating a caring and grateful atmosphere in your classroom and at your school. If all teachers do even a few of these simple ideas and suggestions, you will be amazed by the change in climate around your classroom and school!
It is not just students that you can make a difference with around your school. Once a year or once a semester if you bring in a dozen donuts or bagels for custodians it will make a significant difference in their attitude and their feelings of being appreciated. I would talk to the custodian who regularly cleaned my classroom and find out what cookie or candy bar they liked and leave one with a note that simply said “Thank you! I appreciate all the work you do to make my classroom so clean and inviting every day!” My room was always taken care of with a little TLC due to the small recognition and thankfulness I showed the custodial staff. I would do the same with the main office staff once a semester or once a year. I would always make sure it was not on a specific day like National Secretary’s or Nurse’s Day but just on a regular school day after an especially long period of time without any breaks. It is amazing how much better everyone feels when they are recognized and appreciated. It does not have to be anything major. Just a little something that says, “Thank You!” or “I appreciate all that you do!” A simple handwritten note goes a long way to making someone feel great!
Basically, we all want to feel recognized and appreciated. In our world today when everything is so chaotic and so very negative, it is easy to get lost and feel down and depressed. Just by being thankful and recognizing those around us that do so much to make everything better, we feel better ourselves and most importantly we make others feel better about themselves. Think about the adage that says, “We spend 90% of our time dealing with the 10% of the people who are or are causing the problem(s)!” We must make sure we are spending less time on the problem people and spending more time on the people who are doing things like they should and making everything better for those around them!
If you have read all the way to the end of this blog post, you are one of the people who are doing things well! Thank you! I do appreciate you taking the time to put some thought and effort into making yourself better and making education better for everyone. Please commit to recognizing 5 students or staff at your school that are doing the same. You will be amazed just how much of a difference this will make not only with others but with your own mental well-being and happiness.