The Importance Of Appearing Positive When Returning To the Classroom At Summer’s End

Teaching is a tough job.  We are part manager, part philosopher, part parent, part mentor, part babysitter, part drill-sergeant, part psychologist, oh, and I think we actually educate somewhere amidst all that.  When summer rolls around, most of us need that time to regain our sanity, recharge our batteries, and reacquaint with our own families.

The job is absolutely relentless.  If you’re doing it right, there are very few “breaks” during the day, virtually no downtime, and you are assessing and making decisions on a nearly constant basis throughout the entire workday and typically even after it ends.  Furthermore, most of these decisions have a significant impact upon a young person and are not to be taken lightly.  It’s no wonder I come home almost every day with a splitting headache.  We have no bonuses, no real raises, no stock options, and, if we want to stay in the classroom, very little opportunity for career advancement.

On the other hand, though, teaching affords one the opportunity to truly affect the future, to positively influence hundreds (even thousands) of human lives, to change society, and to experience tremendous personal satisfaction.  A teacher is never bored, always remembered, and largely autonomous.  We’re paid more than many, not as much as some, and typically enjoy satisfactory health benefits (excluding dental and vision, but alas …).

Oh, and let’s not forget the vacation time.

We have excellent vacation time. There is simply no arguing that matter.  I’ve heard many complain that we have too much vacation time, to which I typically respond by encouraging the complainer to go back to school, earn an education degree, and enjoy that same vacation time.  They rarely seem enthusiastic to do so.

For me, teaching is so psychologically and emotionally draining that I need the vacation time to stay sharp, enthusiastic, and able to perform the job well.

But to my fellow teachers, let’s be honest — nobody wants to hear us talk about being sad or bummed to return to work.

Now, when teachers do this, I totally understand.  It’s not that they don’t want to teach again, it’s not that they aren’t excited to see their students and set to work forging the future, it’s not that they don’t want to earn a living.  Rather, it’s that they don’t want to get back on the lock-step schedule, the chaotic unending cycle of creating, grading, and assessing, the inability to ever truly relax.

Most teachers love teaching.  So when they complain about returning to work, they are really lamenting spending less time with their own family, losing a liberal amount of freedom in their schedules, and putting an end to ample traveling and personal pursuits.

But here’s the problem — the public at large do not take such considerations into account, nor should they.  When they hear a teacher complain about going back to work in August, we should not expect them to take that statement beyond face value.  So the issue is that we have the public, many of whom are parents, who believe that teachers don’t want to be in front of the kids.  Of course, this sets the wrong tone for the start of the school year, even if it’s not what’s truly in our hearts.

As teachers, we are always watching, assessing, judging, and criticizing.  However, we are also always being watched, assessed, judged, and criticized.  It’s important to remember that a simple off-hand joke could be repeated by a talkative pal, a tweet could become a trend, and a Facebook post can always be shared.

In 2010, I decided I was going to fight hard to always stay positive at work.  I’d spent several years going way too far the other direction, and it had real adverse implications on my mindset, my health, even my job performance.  They say you are what you eat; I believe you are also what you think.  So, six years ago, I told myself I wanted to be a force for good.  Hokey, I know, but true.  I wanted to try to stay positive — for myself, for my own children, my wife, my coworkers, my administrators, and for my students.  It made a tremendous difference in all aspects of my life.

There’s an old saying that goes “Fake it until you make it.”  There were many, many days I had to fake it.  Even to this day, there are times that negative version of myself creeps back in — none of us are perfect.  But overall I try to stay positive.  Life isn’t perfect, the job isn’t perfect, but honestly, I’ve got a lot to be happy about.  A lot.

Am I happy about going back to work?  Absolutely.  Would I tell you if I wasn’t?  Absolutely not.  We are teachers, we are role models, we set the tone.  If we don’t act excited and happy to be at school, how can we expect our students to?  Actions always speak louder than words with kids, so we’ve got to model what we expect.  Should we sing songs and do cartwheels?  Of course not, but a simple smile and a pleasant demeanor can go a long way with students, and adults, for that matter.

So, to my fellow educators, I’m encouraging you to act positive about going back to work.  Tell your friends you’re happy to get back to it.  Share with our students’ parents how glad you are to teach their children.  Let any students you bump into know that you can’t wait to see them.  Set the tone.  Model expectations.  Be the teacher you would like your own children to have.  If necessary, fake it until you make it.

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