It’s hard for a teacher not to take it personally when students complain they hate school. There are times you want to scream at them that they don’t know how lucky they are to be getting an education, and that they’re a pack of ungrateful brats.
Of course, that wouldn’t make them like school, or you, any better. There are better ways to teach the value of gratitude.
I know: it’s hard to feel you have much to be thankful for when you’re overworked, underpaid, and bombarded by complaints from students, parents, and administrators. But if you (who actually have a choice in the matter) regard classroom time as a burden rather than a blessing, is it fair to expect more from your students? Keep an eye open for daily bright moments—a student’s face lighting up as she finally “gets it,” sun shining through the window after two gloomy weeks—and record these in a journal. Review your list twice a month to keep your own gratitude up.
While a true attitude of gratitude means being content in any and every circumstance, it still helps to include plenty of easy-to-appreciate experiences. Start by realizing that not all students learn well by sitting and listening for long periods, or by filling out answers in workbooks—and that anyone will get bored if assignments are too difficult or too easy. Consider making a regular classroom practice of inviting the kids to contribute ideas for projects, topics, and teaching approaches. (Most youngsters are all too familiar with having adults dictate “what’s good for them”; nothing earns their gratitude like soliciting and implementing their input.)
You probably have one or two students who are seriously ungrateful for the basic way they were made—usually due to parents, teachers, or others implying a child was born stupid, or even the wrong ethnicity/physical appearance/gender to be worth much. Often it takes professional therapy to undo the damage, but a teacher can help by providing lessons geared to a variety of learning styles; by encouraging students to find and develop their individual strengths; and by emphasizing cooperation and helping each other. And—if it’s necessary to give different assignments to students at different progress levels—
by avoiding words like “slow” or “behind,” making sure everyone (including the fast learners) understands it’s fine to learn at your own speed and in your own way.
A few ideas:
One more suggestion for adjusting class atmosphere in favor of the positive: set a goal of eliminating all negative words such as “don’t” or “can’t” from your vocabulary, and replacing them with positive counterparts. Gratitude and positivity are conjoined twins: every boost given to one elevates the other!