We enter the profession looking through rose - colored glasses, but it often doesn't take long for those glasses to come off. Most new teachers hit a period of disillusionment with teaching between November and March or April of their first year. As the year progresses, more and more time is spent on paperwork requirements, meeting district policies, endless meetings, test preparation, and other duties that seem to have little or nothing to do with the actual teaching of children.
Disillusionment also comes in the form of colleagues or administrators who do not live up to our expectations. Either way, this can spiral into self - doubt and a questioning of being in the profession. This disillusionment can happen to veteran teachers as well who are frustrated with the system and the requirements added year after year. Our first comment to those of you who may be feeling this way is, "You are making a difference!"
When you are feeling low or blue and wonder why you are giving up so much of your time and energy, just remember that child who looks up to you or that teenager who finally started participating in class. These kids need you! They need someone who is steady and consistent and who will care for them no matter what. They need teachers like you who care enough to spend their personal time looking for strategies to improve, refine, or bring new ideas into the classroom. Don't give in to your feelings of frustration and helplessness. You are not helpless. You are able to make a difference daily, even if the results aren't immediately apparent.
Not only can you make a difference in the lives of the students in your own classroom, but you can make a difference in the lives of your colleagues, administrator, and all of the students in your school. When you face a difficult situation, always do what is right. Are you not being supported? Then find someone in the school who needs help and support that person as you are able. Be a good role model. Show others what support looks like.
Does your administrator keep piling on extra duties? Do those duties with a cheerful attitude, and then go above and beyond when you are able. Giving cheerfully helps our heart and spreads like wildfire. Be a model for others. Do you have a negative colleague? Come up with one positive comment for every negative comment this person makes. By being a positive influence in the lives of our colleagues, we also become a positive influence in the lives of the students they encounter. Will you see an immediate change? Probably not. Will you ever see a change? Definitely.
While we may have no control over the attitudes of others, we do have control over our own attitudes. Keep a laminated card on your overhead cart, filing cabinet, the visor of your car, the bathroom mirror, and everywhere else you think you may see it. This card should read: "I am making a difference in the lives of thousands of children. I choose to be a positive influence to everyone around me. I will greet the day, tasks, and challenges with a cheerful heart." When in a bad mood and reading this, remember that you do matter. You can choose to be a negative influence in this world or a positive influence. We personally choose to be positive influences as much as possible. These cards help us to remember this goal to keep our priorities straight. Once you do, you'll be amazed at how the little and big things that annoyed you in the past no longer have power over your life.
Is this easy? No. Just like teaching, it takes hard work and consistency. However, for us, the rewards are well worth it. You must decide for yourself whether the potential rewards of a positive working environment and learning environment are worth the work it takes to approach all situations with a cheerful heart. Before long, it is a habit and is no longer a difficult task to be cheerful each day. You'll also notice others around you being cheerful and the negativity fading.
As an experiment, take a look at what is frustrating you right now, and ask yourself how much of that is happening because of your own attitude. It is not an easy question to ask. How much of it is a cycle of negativity in the school that no one seems able to stop? Are you going to continue to allow other people's attitudes to control your own attitude and outlook on life and on teaching? These are important questions to ask yourself.
Steven Covey's (2004) book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People , discusses the circle of influence each person has in his or her life. It is an excellent book and one that we highly recommend every teacher to read because we not only influence those in our family or a few colleagues, but hundreds and thousands of students over the course of our career. In turn, those students influence others in a circle that is ever growing. Now that's something to think about.
Excerpt from Chapter 12 of Classrooms that Spark, 2nd Edition, by Emma McDonald and Dyan Hershman, available March 2010 from Jossey-Bass.