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You know. I know. He knows. She knows. The kids know. We all know who the negative teachers are. Every school has at least one of them, and they fit many different molds. Here’s how to “deal” with the Negative Neds and Sour Sallys in your midst:
1. First, ask yourself if Mr. / Ms. Negative has anything but quality impact on the kids. If they don’t, you need to suck it up. I’ve come across many teachers who, in the copy room or lunch room, dish anything but bliss. Yet, if you were to catch them in the classroom, you see dynamic instruction. You see student involvement. You see happy faces. Most importantly, you see the teacher in his/her element. Like I said before, you need to suck it up.
- Positivity Tip – ask that teacher about whatever is on their mind. They’re obviously happy and competent enough at their job. Maybe they just need to flesh out their issue(s) with someone they trust. You could make a world of difference on this teacher, and could possibly drag them and make them a leader inside and outside of the classroom.
2. Next, determine if Mr. / Ms. Negative are battling personal demons. Seriously. Do you know how much teachers have on their plate? There are 160 kids that walk into my classroom on a day of full attendance, and each comes with their own issues. IEPs, emotional disorders, autism, Aspergers, child abuse, malnutrition, a lack of love. I don’t care who you are, each teacher takes a sliver of that and tries to make it his/her own, if just to alleviate a kid’s pain momentarily. On top of that you’re supposed to add the stress of your own life? C’MON! You’re a teacher! You’re indestructible. Hell, you have off the summer! Yet we still have our own fish to fry in our personal lives. I’ve touched upon my own in a past article, as have many of our other writers. Sorry, but many teachers have to go home and contend with failing marriages, children, finances, and health.
- Positivity Tip – encourage this teacher to seek counseling. Most schools have a program that is free through your insurance for upwards of 10 visits. Help them look into that.
3. Ask yourself, “Is Mr. / Ms. Negative having issues with one – or a few – students or classroom strategies?” Some teachers just sometimes run into a stumbling block. They somehow have ended up with the short stick, and the 5 “worst” kids in your school are in their classroom. Worse yet, they feed off one another. Maybe that’s not the problem; they can handle the kids, but they can’t wrap their heads around the newest initiative (Learning Focused Schools or the Danielson Teacher Effectiveness ring a bell, anyone?). Whatever it is, they’re frustrated. You can help.
- Positivity Tip – Offer to observe a class. Afterwards, build a constructive sandwich – “You do this well… yet I’d do this differently… but, again, you do this well, too.” Sometimes a teacher just need a bit of a slap on the shoulder to say, “I like this, but…” Follow with a smile.
4. Another Question: “Is Mr. / Ms. Negative a one-issue pony?” Sometimes some teachers are just bent up over one issue. One teacher in my district is like that. He’s a good guy and a decent teacher. However, if you bring up a certain issue, you’ll ruin his day. You’ll also ruin it for the other teachers around him. That’s just the way he rolls.
- Positivity Tip – avoid the Dickens out of this issue, and encourage your other professionals, especially his neighbors, to do the same. You’ll all be better for it.
5. Overestimate the bad. There’s a teacher who came up to me and asked me how many of our current students she thought would end up in prison. We have 1,000 students at our middle school, and most – if not all – of them live a pretty darn good life. However, in her eyes, there’s nothing they can do correctly. After teaching in a juvenile detention center this summer, I couldn’t disagree with her more about our clientele.
- Positivity Tip – use the “grass is greener” maxim. To many teachers, the next district is better for a variety of reasons. Better kids. Better pay. Better school board. Easier schedule. Remind Mr. / Ms. Negative that is not always the case.
6. Tired of the political process. Let’s face it, this job is brimming and bubbling more and more in the bubble of politics each and every day. School boards have agendas. The states have agendas. The U.S. Dept. of Ed. has agendas. Unions have agendas. Parents have agendas. Taxpayers have agendas. And yet, somehow kids are supposed to be taught in the ways we find entertaining and educational?
- Positivity Tip – this person probably just needs an ear. As a union president-elect, I find this more and more common that someone just needs to be heard. Sometimes you can help them, sometimes you can’t. But every teacher deserves to have their voice heard if this is a serious complaint.
7. Tired of administration. I don’t care who you are, there’s always a time when you feel the admin is “gunning” for you. Maybe Mr. / Ms. Negative’s overanalyzing and just a pot full of thoughts. Maybe they’re not, and their claims are substantiated. We’ve all seen a teacher “run-out” over an overzealous administrator who just pushed a teacher to far.
- Positivity Tip – help the teacher document. Initiate a time at the beginning and end of the day to document interactions with administration, through email, phone, and personal contact. If their claims are unsubstantiated, the negativity should wither away. If they’re not, at least there’s a paper trail.
8. Can’t just seem to be happy. Ever. You know what I’m referencing here. There’s always a complaint on the tip of the tongue, and even when the sun is shining and it’s a perfect 75 degrees out, there’s still a kid that missed his/her homework.
- Positivity Tip – kill them with kindness. Just continually bombard Mr. / Ms. Negative with as many sunshiney, positive things that you can.
9. Maybe the teacher just had too much of education. I still remember my 10th grade geometry teacher. He was in his 40th year of school, and I sometimes wondered why. I LOVED mathematics, and I was good at it. However, he missed approximately 1 day of school per week (he had so many sick days in his bank) and, when he was there, he was a serious downer. When I’d turn to him for personal help, he’d scourge me with his words. Though I scored almost straight 100’s in my previous and continuous math courses, I barely passed geometry.
- Positivity Tip – encourage retirement. Some great teachers early in their careers give way to curmudgeons. These people need to might just need a suggestion to meet with HR and a financial adviser. By the way, I saw the geometry teacher a few years after his retirement at a softball game, and he was the happiest fan on the field while cheering for his granddaughter.
10. Maybe Mr. / Ms. Negative just needs a new profession. Seriously. Teaching is not for everyone. Seriously. There is a lot to manage in the education field: meetings, grading, planning, parent phone calls, IEPs, GIEPs, behavior plans, meetings, new initiatives, a revolving administrative door, legislators who can’t make up their mind, students who have a similar (albeit less) problem, and did I mention meetings? This job is not for the faint of heart, and if it’s too much for said teacher, you can…
- Positivity Tip – …help them find a new job. Encourage them to meet with a career counselor and explore their options. They’re obviously not doing themselves a favor – nor the kids – so we owe it to the students to have the best, most prepared (and positive) teacher there.
Best of luck at the copier tomorrow!