I was having a bad day. If you’ve read my blog, “An Honest Conversation About Mental Health, Suicide, and Education” https://link.medium.com/nCXEKaXDU1, you’ll remember that I have depression and anxiety. Well I was having an “episode". I was upset about having to take medication, an internal conflict I wrestled with for a while. My anxiety that day felt like a 100 pound weight on my chest.
I was in no mood to teach. I was not in the mood to see coworkers either. I didn’t want to have to tell them that I wasn’t feeling well, but I didn’t want to lie to them either. (On those days, I really keep to myself.)
I got really worried when I got to school. I had an hour or so to get my mind right. I thought hard about it, when it hit me: if I was in this class, how would I want my teacher to behave? I’d want my teacher to be honest, to admit that they are human too, and they struggle. However, I’d also want my teacher to put their emotions aside and teach me.
And that’s when I said it to myself: shut up and teach.
At the start of the year, our administration asked us to write on a small chalk board what our hopes for our students were. We had our photos taken while we held our message up. A slide show was made with all our pictures, and it currently is played on a big screen in the main building, with “High Hopes" by Panic! At the Disco playing on repeat.
My message was that I hope students love coming to school! It’s been something I became passionate about around a year ago. My class had to be a place where students loved to be at. I strive every day to make my classroom and the school a great place to be.
Which is why I needed to set my emotions aside and focus on my why: my students. The students are why I am there. They want a teacher who makes learning fun, and I need to be that teacher. There was no way I could be that teacher if I carried that bad mood and depressing attitude into the classroom.
Before I say anything else let me say one thing to my fellow teachers. Teachers, you are allowed to feel everything that you feel. You are human. You have bad days. You struggle to get it together somedays. There are trials that we face that no one may know about: broken relationships, mental and physical health problems, financial difficulties, vehicle troubles, infertility, stress from the daily work, etc. You are human. You’re not Debbie Disney, skipping down the halls, singing with birds and squirrels without a care in the world. You are allowed to feel all of the raw and real emotions that come with the highs and lows of life.
I’d even go as far as to say that explaining some of those difficulties with your students can be beneficial. Obviously, don’t vent and rant, spilling all the gory details of your troubles. But telling your kids that you struggle sometimes and have bad days goes a long way to build relationships with kids. They become open to discussing their problems with you, because they see you as a real person who can connect with them.
Now, with that said, you can’t bring that bad mood into the classroom. Kids will feed on that. They get what you give. Your bad mood, complaining spirit is just as infectious as your bright smile and excitement. You have to leave your bad moods, exhaustion, annoyances, and personal problems at home. You can’t bring that into the classroom. If we are in the business of making schools a place where students love to be, then we can’t constantly bring our problems before our students and vent our frustrations to them. We need to shut up and teach. Kids are hoping that we do that.
My kids were asking if I enjoyed Christmas and December. I found myself having to tell my kids that December is a hard month for me to get through. I didn’t disclose all the the reasons why December is hard in explicit detail; allow me tell you now. I was married in December, but I recently got divorced. I lost a friend who was like a brother to me in December. The school shooting that happened less than a mile from where I teach happened in December. My aunt and piano teacher, who loved Christmas, died in November. The greatest memory I have of her was setting up her Christmas lights while she made me and my brothers hot chocolate and brownies. December is hard.
I was asked by a student if I was going to be different in December. “You’re always happy and energetic. In December are you going to be lazy and depressed?” The look of concern in this student’s eyes was real. I could tell he was concerned for me, but also for his own well being. I assured him that nothing would change. I explained that I have had very hard days this year that they never knew about. “So you try not to let your bad mood effect how you teach us?” You’re absolutely right, kid!
There’s another teacher at our school who was told that she was always energetic even at the end of the day. That teacher responded by saying that her kids need and deserve a teacher who isn’t grumpy by the end of the day. That teacher shuts up and teaches, and her kids love her for that. Her class is one of the most engaging classes on our campus. It wouldn’t be that way if she brought her troubles into work every day.
We are allowed the occasional vent. We are human, and, yes, we complain. In the long run, though, venting and complaining do nothing to solve problems, whether those are personal or professional problems. They certainly have no place in our classrooms. Our energy definitely influences our students’ attitudes. What kind of attitude and outlook do we want them to have: one where they can’t wait to leave or one where they can’t wait to come back the next day?
Let’s make school a place that students love to be at. Bring excitement and passion back to your classroom. Leave that bad attitude behind.
Shut up and teach.