Most teachers want to make a difference to the next generation and, by extension, the world. Whether they accomplish that goal depends on how well they retain their positive outlook after weeks of uncooperative students, demanding adults, and arbitrary educational goals set by faceless bureaucrats.
Every year, around 500,000 teachers in the U. S. abandon the profession. Face it, even without low salaries and red tape, teaching might be the most challenging profession known to humanity. What other category of professionals spends half their work hours directly supervising twenty or more individuals who haven’t reached the age of mature judgment, perhaps not even the age of basic tact?
So the first rule of being an optimistic teacher is: don’t be blindly optimistic. Accept the reality that:
Got that? Okay, here’s what you can do to make your classroom a positive place for everyone involved. Including yourself.
However determined you are not to have “pets,” you’ll find some students easier to like than others. Even a simple clash of personalities or energy levels can create a barrier.
A good way to reduce such risks is to begin each term with an open-sharing day where students can introduce themselves by their interests—which gives you ideas for nurturing their individual gifts. Don’t, however, require everyone to stand up and speak; you’re bound to have some shy individuals who get a bad taste in their mouth at that approach. Offer the floor to anyone who wants a turn, then give the whole class an ungraded assignment of creating an “About Me” report (in any medium of choice: writing, collage, recorded speech, etc.).
Contrary to popular belief, teachers’ work hours are longer than students’ work hours. Chances are you’re working as much as your nine-to-five peers. And chances are much of that work is done at home, so take a tip from home-office entrepreneurs: set boundaries so you can enjoy your “down time” without being tormented by thoughts of “I could and should get in a little more work.” Have specific hours and a specific “homework space” for teaching-related responsibilities, and keep the rest of your “home space” free to relax and have fun with your family. You need the recharge time to retain a positive view of teaching throughout the rough days.
If you want to make a long-term difference in students’ lives, focus your vision beyond “making them behave” from day to day. If you’re interested in building a better future for humanity, practice showing respect and empathy toward every human you work with every day. Ultimately, education is about keeping the big picture in view.
So is optimism.