A Teacher’s Power of Positivity

About Jake Miller

Mr. Jake Miller teaches middle school history near Harrisburg, PA. He is the 2016 National History Day Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year and a 2017 NEA Teacher of Excellence. His articles have appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, WeAreTeachers, and several other periodicals, but Miller has called TER home since 2012.

I’ve spent enough times surrounded by negativity. I’ve gone the other way when the “negative teacher” walks down the hallway. I’ve watched people publicly belittle my profession and union over and again. I’ve led that union and had to open far too many negative emails of plea / help / disdain. I’ve hoped for that student to be absent, even if just for one day. I’ve prayed for others to overcome the strife they face at home.

But at the end of the day, I just want to wrap myself in a blanket of positivity. Here are 10 ways I accomplish that:

  1. Ask students who their favorite teacher is and share it with that teacher. 
    This is one of my favorite things to do. At the beginning of the year, I have students complete an introductory form. When they complete this information, I forward the impact to teachers of years past. It was amazing that when I taught seniors, one student still found their Kindergarten teacher to be their most influential.
    Additionally, when I meet students in public, working at their jobs or shopping with their parents, my first question is “what’s your favorite class this year?” The power of relaying that support to their current teachers is just as profound.
  2. Call home / email home – for good reasons!
    When I call or email parents, some say that “this is the only time I’ve heard from the school,” while others wince in fear of seeing a teacher’s email or the school phone number. To turn that pivot on such a positive head is a powerful way for all educators to “catch kids doing good things” and take back the PR campaign we’re losing to all the haters.
  3. Participate in or create a school-wide positive behavior reinforcement.
    I love that our school has a Principal’s 100 Club, where each teacher is provided token cards to hand out to kids when we catch them in the right. I had out my cards with regularity. Just this year I’ve given one to 2 kids who hold the door for students each day; to a student who helps her brother at the end of each day; to the big, athletic football player who picked up a 6th graders’ books and walked them to their class. Then I follow step 2.
  4. Commend your colleagues on a job well-done.
    Sometimes our colleagues make kick-ass lessons, and they go ignored. The kids might shrug them off. The admins may never stop by to see them. And even our teachers next door get busy with their own responsibilities. When you see a damn good lesson, say so! You know you love when your receive compliments on a job well-done, so do the same for others.
  5. Share students’ successes / good choices with other students.
    When kids do great things inside and outside of my class, I try to share that with others. To enshrine that a bit, I started a “round of applause” bulletin board in my room. Sticky notes go out to kids next week to share positivity with one another.
  6. Laugh. 
    I will hurt the next teacher who says “don’t smile until Christmas.” I laugh every day, and kids laugh at my erratic, changing laughter. An age-old educational aphorism says kids won’t always remember every lesson you share with them, but they’ll remember how you make them feel.  Click To Tweet
  7. Engage with your students on a personal level.
    I haven’t done an excellent job of this point this year, and I’ve been working harder at it lately. But, as with #6 above, who doesn’t learn from people? I love teaching history because I get to see the triumphs and tribulations of Americans. The “being human” part is what draws me to them. Why would I not seek to meet my students at the same level?
  8. Explain your reasoning behind rules and discipline. 
    I think this is an important part of being positive. Education is not all fun and games. It’s structure, it’s learning content and concepts – collaboration and communication. It’s controlled chaos. It’s a microcosm of our culture. Conversely to #8, if you’re not willing to explain why you operate your classroom in such a manner, why would kids ever meet you at your level?
  9. Share something special with them. 
    One of our long-time veterans who now substitutes for us talks about her trips to Iceland and has them try to pronounce the consonant-riddled names. Another one of my colleagues makes fun of his favorite football team. North Carolina teacher Barry White, Jr. has a fun handshake unique to every one of his kids. I high-5 my students, every day, all day, all the time.
  10. Listen.
    If teachers want to hear the positivity in their classroom, they best be ready to listen. I let kids have choices. I ask them for feedback on my lessons. I wonder what makes them tick. I learn about what they do outside of class. I need to learn from them for them to learn from me.

There’s a quote published in just about every Chicken Soup for the [Students’] Soul book by George Adams that should pull each of us teachers away from the drudgery and back to positivity: “There are high spots in all of our lives, and most of them come about through encouragement from someone else. Encouragement is oxygen to the soul.”

That stuff mentioned at the beginning is smoke. It’s water. It’s suffocation.

May you – and your students – breathe a bit lighter today.

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About the Author:

Mr. Jake Miller teaches middle school history near Harrisburg, PA. He is the 2016 National History Day Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year and a 2017 NEA Teacher of Excellence. His articles have appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, WeAreTeachers, and several other periodicals, but Miller has called TER home since 2012.

One Comment

  1. Jane Frye October 10, 2017 at 1:53 pm - Reply

    Thank you for my new 10 best reasons to keep teaching. I high five all of our students and have a great attitude almost everyday but you’ve reminded me I need to pass it on to adults!

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