One thing that really gets me in any environment is negativity — something I’m guilty of exhibiting myself from time to time.
That said, nobody wants to be around the negative Nancy in the office, and I would argue that especially in a school, it can be downright hurtful to kids still growing into their personalities. Even when I’m having a bad day, I do my best not to let that negativity pass on to students, aside from the odd sarcastic remark — although that’s the expected norm anyway.
I’ve been lucky to have been around largely positive colleagues (for the most part) during my teaching career thus far; even those that are negative tend to put on a good show in the classroom. To me, there’s nothing that turns off a student more than having an instructor that doesn’t want to be there; if I’m honest, that’s likely why I don’t like math today, as I remember a few not-so-happy teachers from my high school days.
Let’s just say, as a kid I didn’t always see eye-to-eye with teachers that tried to force “learning” for the sake of it — yet for those that quite obviously enjoyed their jobs, I always went the extra mile. Passive aggressive? Definitely, but it seems to be common sense, doesn’t it?
It’s quite common in some schools, depending on many factors, to have a strict structure and to enforce that with consequences: negative reinforcement. To me, though, this is just counterproductive; human nature is generally to rebel against what is forced upon you — especially in the case of teenagers — and it seems a far lesser endeavor to work with someone than to push against. Isn’t it the same in the “real world”?
A fly in the ointment
I bring this up because I’ve been noticing a colleague (superior, actually) constantly berating a group of kids recently, and I just wanted to shout back at him: what are you trying to accomplish? I’m all for tough love, and I genuinely think that this age of health-and-safety and overblown child [and adult] psychology has sometimes gone too far; I’m reminded of George Carlin, the comedian, and one of his routines picking on overbearing and over-protective parents and adults:
“Here’s a bumper sticker I’d like to see: We are the proud parents of a child who has resisted his teachers’ attempts to break his spirit and bend him to the will of his corporate masters.”
How true. I often feel — especially in international education — that we’re failing kids as we baby them too much, making their own part-of-growing-up mistakes lose their learning value, and essentially providing an idealist education void of any connection with reality.
Achieving a balance
But can’t we meet in the middle — instead of negativity, why have you failed, you’re a waste of life, blah blah blah, how about a positive approach? What have you learned from your failure, how can you work to be better, look at the big picture?
The frustration is understandable, though; every now and then I’ll get a group that just doesn’t click with me, and it can be frustrating to try to get kids that just aren’t interested in engaging to make any progress. While I try my best to be patient and positive at all times — remembering my own past teachers — sometimes it’s just all a bit much. I just have to keep reminding myself to put myself in their shoes. Hell, to put myself in my OWN shoes, all those years ago. How would I [and did I] react to various teacher temperaments?
Call me an idealist, but each time I see a teacher whose negativity and/or negative reinforcement tactics are obvious, the Pink Floyd music video plays in my mind. “Hey! Teacher! Leave those kids alone…”