A Matter of Perspective

My husband laughingly refers to me as a Pollyanna. I like to look at the bright side of things and find reasons to be thankful. But even with my glass-half-full personality, I have bad days. Sometimes really bad days. And what I can’t understand is how quickly a good morning can disintegrate into a totally rotten, no-good-very-bad-day. You know the kind. The ones where you started with a little bounce in your step, only to have your students (or maybe just one particular student) turn things upside down, leaving you feeling dejected, defeated, even questioning your career choice?

Last week, I was provided an interesting glimpse into the nature of these good-turned-rotten kinds of days. A huge thunderstorm blew up, complete with crashes of thunder, strobe-like lightening bursts and heavy rains. As the storm continued, I noticed part of the sky turning an unusual shade of orange. Intrigued, I stepped out onto my front porch. I looked to the right – black clouds, seemingly continuous bursts of lightening, and ominous rolls of thunder. I looked to the left, where the sky had turned orange. To my surprise, beyond the thunderheads, fat white clouds tinged with a pinkish orange were visible through the trees. They were reflecting the sunset. On one side, a storm. On the other, a beautiful sunset. Both real. Both simultaneous. All that changed was the direction I was facing.

This got me thinking about perspective. What might happen the next time a good day started to go wrong if nothing changed except the way I chose to look at my student(s)? If I acknowledged the storm but chose to see the sunset?

I’m not talking about turning a blind eye, ignoring disrespect or making excuses for inappropriate behavior. Perspective means I look beyond the behavior and see the student. I choose to assume good intentions, to give the benefit of the doubt. Perspective means that I take a hard look at where I’m standing and what I’m doing, asking questions like “Where did I go wrong?” or “What could I have done differently?” It’s far easier to scrutinize my students – “Why do they seem determined to make me nuts? Are they really trying to sabotage my lesson?” but I’m not sure those questions are productive.

Choosing to be empathetic, seeing the best in my students and focusing on the good isn’t always easy. I think that sometimes, as teachers, we believe seeing the best in our students (even though we know a thunderstorm is raging) will make us seem weak or gullible. Perhaps we worry that students will take advantage of us. There’s no doubt that some students will (or will try) to take advantage. But I’ve come to a place where I would rather reach more students by seeing the best than protect myself (or my pride) from the random student who will think my positive perspective is a sign of weakness.

Bad days, like thunderstorms, are to be expected. But that’s not what we have to focus on, just because they make the most noise. The next time a good day begins to sour, I’ll have a choice to make: will I focus on the thunderstorm or the sunset?

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