Friday, December 20, 2013

Teachers: Stay Passionate. Stand Strong. Never Apologize.

All great educators have critics, fellow educators who want to bring them down, which can be difficult. I believe education is one of the most rewarding yet toughest professions, because you truly have to put your full heart into it to be successful. But, any time you put your full heart into something, there is the possibility of being let down by others.

The following are three ways to be strong despite critics:

1. Stay Passionate: Do what it takes to stay passionate about education. Reach out through social media, call an old friend or mentor, read, and reflect. Focus on the positive, and those who are there for you, and want you to succeed. Create a personal mission statement, and stand by it.

2. Stand Strong: I believe that it is human nature to want to fit in. No one wants to be an outsider. However, never worry about fitting in if it means you have to compromise on your values, principles, or work ethic. Don't lower your standards. Don't hold back to please others. Bring your best everyday.

3. Never Apologize: I was raised in the south, and as a result I was brought up to be kind. I was raised not to stand out, or be too forward. This can be good and bad. Of course, I want to be humble, and I want to be kind, but not to the point of weakness. I would suggest that all educators stand by their work, and never feel bad or apologize for bringing your best to the classroom.

Additional Reading for Staying Strong:

In the book, Real Talk for Real Teachers, Rafe Esquith has a chapter entitled, "Haters". I loved reading this book, and Esquith's advice always sets me at ease. Although I believe that most teachers truly mean well, and I would not consider them "haters", I do believe some teachers can be hurtful without even realizing it.

The following is an excerpt from Esqiuth's book. It is worth the read.

I am sorry to raise the issue, but it's an important one, and something all good young teachers will likely encounter. We live in as Don Henley sang in "The Heart of the Matter," in a "graceless age." Time and time again, when I meet outstanding teachers, they relate a tale about a coworker who was mean to them simply because they were doing a good job. Jealousy is an ugly emotion that often leads to unprofessional and cruel behavior.

Hate can arise from the simplest of issues. One of our school's teachers was on maternity leave, so a substitute was brought in to finish the last several months of the year. She was outstanding. One could not ask more from a replacement. Rather than simply going through the motions, this woman wanted the class to finish strong. She began a book club during their lunch hour to help her students discover a love of reading. She was bothering no one. She simply stayed in her room during the lunch hour reading with children who voluntarily joined the activity.

A few teachers who taught in the same grade approached her and asked why she did not come to the teacher's lounge and join them for lunch. She said that she would love to, but she had started a lunch time book club that had picked up steam and significantly helped some of her students. This information was greeted with an infamous question:

"What are trying to do--make us look bad?"

Any good teacher has winced upon hearing this. Of course the substitute was doing nothing of the kind. But it depressed her to have fellow teachers frown upon her effort. The majority of the staff admired her work, and some teachers began similar clubs. Still she told me she felt uneasy every time she passed this small group of colleagues infected with the green eyed monster.

It can and probably will happen to you. When it does. It hurts. No amount of advice can take away the pain if you are a sensitive person. Ironically, that sensitivity is a blessing and a curse. It drives you to do more for your students because you care deeply about them, but it provides little armor against tactless comments.

Try not to take it personally. It has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the person slinging the arrows. Your school is not unique. I have had the privilege to speak with teachers from all over the world and the story never changes. From Bangkok to Taipei to Rio to Main Street, U.S.A., every school has mediocre individuals who tear down rather than build up.

Equith's Last Thoughts For Consideration...

  • Never forget the words of an extraordinary teacher named Jeanne Delp. She once observed: "When what you are reminds other of what they are not, hostility results."
  • If you come up with a new idea or do something different in a school, someone will be unhappy with you. Your class could be discovering the cure for cancer and a hater will criticize you for it.
  • Good teachers do not hate extraordinary educators. They emulate and collaborate with them.
  • When feeling down about a colleague's unprofessional behavior, take solace in the fact that many teachers in your school are fabulous human beings. A couple of bad apples can make a person forget the fact that the majority of educators make the human race look good.
  • Always remember that you do not have the power to make anyone look bad. Bad teachers look bad all by themselves. They don't need your help.
  • As difficult as it may be at times, take the high road when dealing with a hater. If necessary read chapter 3 of To Kill a Mockingbird and watch Atticus Finch handle the wheelchair bound Mrs. Dubose. She is hell on wheels (literally), but Atticus treats her with respect and dignity. Being polite to disagreeable people is a strong message to model for your students.
I am planning to reread Esquith's book over the break. I suggest that all new teachers take heart, stand by their work, and continue to strive for excellence.

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