I was having a visual meander though the Independent this week and came across a piece referenced from the ‘Secret Teacher’ blog segment of the Guardian. A secondary head of English in England has written, telling teachers to ‘stop moaning and think of the perks.’ Frankly, I am really glad someone has had the sense to stand up and tell it how it is. At first I laughed! I could really relate to many of the fine points he made. It is true that schools happen to be some of the more negative places on the planet at times! If teachers could stop jumping on the negativity bandwagon and just focus on the reasons why they became a teacher, perhaps their health (and performance) might increase.
I grew saddened to realise that his article was now the brunt of waves of critical retort and bitter negativity, slating his narrow mindedness and his blind optimism. I sat there thinking about my own journey into education and I couldn’t help remarking that the negativity was probably coming from those at whom he directed his piece. I understand that everyone has their own grievances with the school they work in and sometimes the feeling is justified. However, what cannot be justified is the spreading of negativity to others.
Infection is the worst moral killer in schools, so with that in mind I have decided it is time to voice my own views on the matter and for all those positive teachers out there who share my views, I now split negative teachers into groups: –
- The Vampires (the deadliest) – These are the regular complainers. The everyday unhappy teacher who might actually teach very well and be well-liked by the children, but once you get them in their free time, they let rip. They know all the gossip and the latest scoop on everyone. They complain of being overworked and having very little free time, yet you will always catch them in that little free time sat in the corner of the staff room shrouded in their own misery and bitterness and infecting anyone who dares approach. These I call vampires. They sit and wait for anyone who will listen, then they bite out and infect you until you either die or turn into one of them.
- The Vipers (totally confrontational) – These ones will get you. I like to think these are the ones who you give a little piece of rope to and they will hang themselves. They are not as smart as the zombies, they will cause all sorts of controversy. These are your snappers. They come to work at 1 minute to 8am and will leave at 1 minute past the bell. They will be the ones who call out and outwardly oppose the head teacher in a staff briefing or the ones who send a vicious email and cc everyone in to rally support. They love telling you they will go to their trade unions! Awkward folk who are usually best left with, as I mentioned, the rope for self-hanging.
- The Sarky’s (silent but deadly) – These are your average, passive-aggressive teachers who seem to have chips deeply embedded in their shoulders and use sarcasm as their main form of attack. This cynical creature will use eye rolling as a sign of utmost disdain and make witty offhand comments to try to allude to how much harder they work than everyone else. You can’t seem to prove they are overly negative because they are careful and meticulous, but you know you are walking into trouble by asking them to do anything extra on top of what they already do.
- The Collaborators (useless to a fault) – These are the ones who sit drinking their coffee, nodding their heads and passively agreeing with all the other complainers. They won’t complain themselves, but they might offer a short remark of support, or shake their heads in disbelief. While not outwardly negative, they do nothing to distil rumour and gossip. Might as well be just as guilty.
And now we start getting more positive:
- The Blind Eyed (the non-bothered) – I was this guy when I first started teaching. This is the person who strictly avoids the staff room because he knows it’s a pit of vipers. This person would rather spend time catching up on some reading somewhere, or talking to the students in his spare time. There’s always a bit of last minute marking which can be done at lunch time rather than listening to them over there. I am sometimes this guy.
- And now we have the Energy Bunnies – This is who I try to be. Blindly optimistic. Not afraid to challenge those who speak negatively, countering with comments of positivity and ‘everything is going to be okay’ while seeming naive to the ‘truth.’ Not always well liked by the critics of the school but trusted by the admin, steadfast in the face of adversity and a positive role model for the children.
I have been grinding my teeth over the last 5 years working with (and now managing) teachers who spread negativity in school. Don’t they realise that they have the best job in world? I love my job. I am a teacher. On its own, teacher is just a word. But when I say ‘I am a teacher’, in my head I imagine it looks the same way Captain America would look, putting his fists on his hips and looking to the skies after catching the villain, because to me, I’ve found what I want to spend the rest of my life doing. And frankly, even though negative teachers are a nuisance to any school, I often thank them in my head – the kids sense their negative spirit and grow to appreciate the positive teachers even more, come to respect them and admire them. Thanks for making being liked by the kids easier.
On a serious note, as teachers we have been gifted with a chance to shape lives. I have been given the responsibility to empower students, kindle their interests in learning and fill them with a sense of purpose. Every day I get the honour of shaping a despondent miscreant, motivating a downtrodden child and challenging a superior thinker. I walk around smiling all day, whistling and fist-bumping while surrounded by bright faces who, quite frankly, keep me on my toes and have me learning all the time. When I walk into the classroom, I get to electrify my students and imbue them with immense enthusiasm, continual optimism and calculated organisation. My students learn from my teachings and enjoy my little off-track side-stories whenever I find experiences from my own life which help illustrate my point. And don’t get me wrong, I love telling them my stories. They get to understand me as a person and feel connected while I make my teachings come to life. Ladies and gentlemen, I am a teacher of English and history. I am proud of what I do and this over shadows the downsides. When you suddenly stumble across a career that you love, the job ceases to be a ‘work’ and becomes a way of life.
Okay, so it’s often challenging being a teacher. It’s not all ‘movie-like’ with slow-motion high-fives in the corridor from your students, a point and a wink here and fist bump there. It can’t always be early morning sing-songs or sunny afternoons reading entertaining stories to a laughter-filled classroom. Teaching can be hard. Those sunny afternoons can quickly become dreary and the kids can often become tired or wound up beyond measure. There is a lot of marking and adjusting to be made whenever the curriculum changes. There are resources to find and make. Timing is everything and there can be tough slugs trying to find an engaging way to teach a very dry or boring topic. There are the hours of planning which go into your lessons and the many meetings with heads of departments which can often feel like hours of constant ‘constructive’ criticism.
But there are also all those moments you catch a boy innocently lying and you both laugh about it, when you see a smile as someone finally ‘gets it’, when you finish your lesson and wipe the board and the bell rings seconds later – the perfect timing makes you chuckle. There are the summer, Xmas and Easter breaks where the cumulative amount of holidays in one year are equal to that which your friends in offices get in 3-years. There is the consistent salary increase year on year and the copious opportunities for promotion in a field you readily become an expert in. There are the sunny afternoons when you finish at 3:30pm or 4pm when everyone else in work until after 5pm. There are the surroundings of a clean and healthy place of work, full of colourful wall displays and bright-eyed kids willing to learn. There’s the feeling of turning around a child who was a discipline risk the previous year but now loves to learn because of you. There is so much to be had, from keeping a sharp mind because you are constantly learning and being able to stay young and remain in-touch with the younger generation. You sign up for it and reap the rewards…but you have to want to see it.
For me, I need to take the positive highroad. It is not only my job as management but also my duty to myself. My students need to see me positive. We are the people they rely on to make them feel better when they are down. Most of the time, my smile in the morning cheers some of them up (and more accurately, their smiles cheer me up).
The purpose of the above was to highlight, in a slightly humorous way, what I go up against in school and the different types of negativity that are present. But to those who are critical and get so bogged down, who let their workloads cause them immense stress and would say ‘but what about all the hard work’ and ‘you can’t possibly speak for all teachers…’, I now beseech you to look to the things that influenced you to become a teacher. Do not compromise your integrity by becoming the very thing that kills the positive buzz in a place that should in fact be filled with it. If you don’t like the job, leave it. It can often be a solitary and challenging environment to work in but there are so many great things to take away from teaching.
At the very least, try not to keep bogging others down with your negativity. Be the reason a school is great, and the children will remember you forever. You might even enjoy it 🙂