With all of the external pressures teachers experience, combined with all of the pressure we put on ourselves in our work, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel like it’s never enough. As educators, we know our students need positive reinforcement to grow as learners, and would not progress in an environment where nothing is ever celebrated. Teachers are no different—but so often, we are the only ones there with our students.
One of the most important lessons I learned in my first few years of teaching was from my Bank Street College mentor Madeleine Ray, when she would come observe me in my classroom. As a beginning teacher, there were so many things I wanted to work on, and some things were a mess. But every time she visited, our conversations focused largely on what was working, rather than what wasn’t. I remember her warmth and positivity and can hear her words perfectly.
“Did you see those kids today?” she’d grin. “They couldn’t wait to discuss that story! And did you see Moises? He’s been so frenetic all year, but today he waited patiently to get his point heard. He didn’t interrupt once!” She was great at pointing out the small victories, and she showed such genuine joy in the progress, it was contagious.
Later she’d ask me, “So what do you want to work on?” I’d talk about all the “other stuff” that was getting in the way of the perfect class I wanted to have. She’d provide a few suggestions for things to adjust, or point me in a direction so I’d come to them on my own.
Over the years, I learned to become my own positive voice for myself (some years more effectively than others), and I think its an important quality for sustaining the passion for teaching. We tend to be very hard on ourselves, but for most of us, that comes easily. Though it is incredibly important to analyze shortcomings and plan how to do better next time, we can learn just as much by analyzing what works.
So my tip is this:
Learn from the positive.
Maybe you said something to a student today and you knew it resonated or helped him or her understand something better. Take some time to reflect on why it was a useful thing to say at that moment for that student. When you have a golden learning moment in a class, make sure to notice (and smile to yourself!). Take some time later that day to think about what you did to bring about that moment and what other factors may have helped create it.
Think of this as fuel.
[Image credit: markwojtasiak.wordpress.com]