Today, I am reminded of life's fleeting beauty for three reasons:
- One former student on a ventilator tonight after a terrible automobile accident
- Another student that I taught up until January is undergoing a CT scan in a terrible hit and run accident…he was riding his bicycle home from school
- It is my birthday.
It makes me think.
As I think of this, I am reminded of my calling as a teacher.
Educators may disagree on methods, practices, and such but the purpose is clear: the education of the future of the human race.
As I cry and pray for these precious boys, it strikes a chord of nagging fear that I haven't done enough. Did I give enough attention? Did I show enough kindness? Did I kindle a spark of excitement that gave them something to look forward to in their day? Did I matter in their lives?
I am pulled back to a quote from the late James Ramsey Ullman
“For it is the ultimate wisdom of the mountains that man is never so much a man as when he is striving for what is beyond his grasp, and that there is no battle worth winning save that against his own ignorance and fear.”
The fight for attitude preservation
It is times like these that I struggle with my own attitude. I have been reminding myself of one of my favorite stories that John Maxwell tells in his incredible book Attitude 101. It goes something like this:
There was a frog and he fell in a hole in the middle of the road. He hopped and hopped and gave everything he had to get out of the hole. He wanted to go home and he was getting hungry. His friends came along, the turtle and the rabbit and tried to help. They put a stick in and tried to pull him out, they stuck the rabbit's fluffy tail over the edge for him to grab and pull himself out. But they just couldn't get him out of the hole.
‘Don't worry our friend, you will not starve this winter. Since you can't get out of this hole, we'll go get you some food and water from the woods so you can last the winter until you figure out how to get out.'
So they hopped and plodded off.
Moments later they look up and the frog was hopping merrily along beside them.
‘What happened? How did you get out of the hole, friend frog?'
‘It's like this,' said the frog, ‘A truck came along.'
So, the frog struggled and remained in the hole until necessity required that he get out of the hole or cease to exist.
We've got to hop out of the hole
As teachers sometimes we get in a “hole.” We get tired and run down and frustrated. We are tired of grading. We are tired of kids! We are even tired of ourselves! We're just plain tired!
However, as a teacher, there is a necessity for one of the vital ingredients of a good teacher: a good attitude.
Enthusiasm is contagious.
So is bad attitude. It is proven by research.
Kathy Sierra discusses new research about mirror neutrons and its effect on us. These mirror neutrons cause us to have empathy but also have other effects including that of unconsciously acquiring the negative attitudes of those we are around. But here is the bottom line:
The potential problem, though, is that these neurons go happily about their business of imitating others without our conscious intention.
She also quotes Steven Stosny, an expert on road rage:
“Anger and resentment are the most contagious of emotions,” according to Stonsy. “If you are near a resentful or angry person, you are more prone to become resentful or angry yourself. ..”
The avalanche caused by a pebble of bad attitude
I KNOW that the same anger and resentment that cause road rage can also cause a snowball effect in my classroom.
You've seen it happen. A student comes in first period and is “ready to rumble.” Suddenly you go from whistling “zip a de doo dah” to “zip your lip bud.”
People who think teaching is easy are not around teenagers very much!
But my attitude affects that of every other person who comes into my room for the rest of the day. So, I cannot afford to let my attitude go south!
Attitude and the effect on failing schools
Why are so many failing schools unable to turn it around? Well, attitudes can snowball and create an avalanche downhill!
We are all inspired by the attitudes of those who motivate and stir the inner excitement in others. Legendary movies are made about such fictional or real teacher/ coach motivators – Mr. Holland's Opus, Remember the Titans, October Sky… but as teachers watch, we are often skeptical that such people are not real.
Surely we cannot expect to be purveyors of hope amidst the most difficult of circumstances. As educators, aren't we supposed to be realists?
The importance of hope
My husband bought the pilot of the new Battlestar Gallactica.
At a pivotal moment at the end of the pilot, the 50,000 people remaining in the human race are standing at the funeral of many of their fallen comrades. They are despondent. They are lost. The billions of humans inhabiting 12 colonies (planets) are dead and they are all that is left. No place to resupply. Adrift.
Their captain senses their feeling and in a moment of fanfare says that there is another colony that their enemy has not found and only he knows the way to get there.
As you watch the faces of his crew, you see an enlightenment and excitement building. After he speaks and the funeral completes the crew erupts in applause and congratulatory hugs. Their hope is restored.
They have something to work towards. They are part of something! The salvation of the human race!
Hope is not Sci Fi
Although this pilot is science fiction, the concept of hope is not. As humans, we must know that there is hope. We must know that there is a point. We must know that struggle is for a reason and that it will not last forever. We must know there is a light in order to work towards the light.
I would venture to say that every winning team I've ever seen won the battle of the mind before they ever stepped foot on the field. They may be unsure and know there was a struggle, but they had hope!
I think of the rat in the cage experiment I learned about in one of my college Psychology classes. When rats have hope of avoiding shocks, they respond in basically Pavolovian ways to avoid the pain. But tie them down and shock them repeatedly without reason and they do not move. They hopelessly sit there and suffer. Even, when they are untied and all they have to do is move off of the shock sensor, they do not attempt to move. For in the process, they lost hope! Great administrators and leaders are vision casters who inspire real, believable hope. Sometimes they may doubt the possibility themselves, but never in front of their troops.
I protect my hope. I protect my attitude. I cast the vision and let my students know there is hope. There is celebration after struggle. There is a reason for hard work!
I am jumping out of the hole!
So tonight, I remind myself of all of the good things I have. I remind myself of the progress that I've made with my kids.
I remind myself of the private conversations I had with each of the two boys who now fight for their lives in hospital beds, too young to know that life is short.
I remind myself that the other kids that will be in my classroom tomorrow need me more than ever. I will not put on a fake front or unreal sunny disposition. I will spend time praying to see what I should say to the kids tomorrow. They need adults to cry with them and encourage them. Not sugar coat it. But be real.
They also need adults who know that there is a light and a believable hope in life. That at the darkest moments of life there is a Teacher who far surpasses me or any other in His ability to Teach them about such things.
I am a teacher.
Life. Teaching. I traded a six figure income for a pittance of a salary.
I traded a life making money for a life making true riches.
I traded a life of self serving for a life of service to mankind.
I am a teacher.
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