Fingers and Toes

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I guess I won’t be telling anybody anything new when I start this post by saying that teaching is difficult. It’s not an easy thing to do, whatever subject or whatever level you’re doing it at. Is it worth while? Definitely! But there are going to be days when you feel that it isn’t, days when you feel like all you’ve done is bang your head against a brick wall again and again. I’ve had those, and I’m guessing you might have done as well. As terrible as those days can feel, hang in there! Because at the end of the day, the truth is that your love and enthusiasm for teaching will help you through. And if you’re as lucky as I am, you also have a flotilla of friends, family and classmates looking out for you as well. This post is about one of those people:my wonderful partner, who has helped me through my blackest days with little tricks like the one I’m about to tell you about.

I’d had an awful day. One of my classes had been particularly difficult and it was all I could think about. My partner came home from work and found me slumped on the sofa in a terrible state. After I’d bawled on him for a minute (or, err, fifteen!) he asked me to tell him why I was so upset. I told him about my difficult class and everything that had happened that I couldn’t get out of my head. He then asked me to tell him about the good things that had happened in the day. I’d had other classes that had gone much better, so I told him about those as well. It was mainly full of little things; my first years had done well with their essays, I’d gotten some good feedback from another teacher on my third years, a pupil had told me she liked my dress, things like that. After I’d told him everything, my partner said ‘I’ve been keeping count of everything you told me. Do you know how many bad things you told me about?’

I shook my head, but I knew it had to have been hundreds to have upset me so badly. He showed me four fingers and said ‘Four bad things. And do you know how many good things you told me?’ I guessed maybe seven. And my wonderful partner bent over, pulled off his socks and slippers, wiggled all his fingers and toes at me and said with a massive smile on his face ‘Twenty! Twenty good things about today!’

The effect was instantaneous;it put a smile on my face as big as his and I felt immediately better about the day. Sure, it hadn’t been perfect – but twenty good things was phenomenal! It really put things into perspective and made me see how easy it was to let a handful of bad things throw off your entire perception of one day. I’d given so much attention to the things that hadn’t gone well and had completely written off the things that had made it a good day. For whatever reason, my brain will always cling to the negatives over the positives, and that’s what upsets me. (Does your brain do that too? Please feel free to comment, I’m curious!)

I won’t advise you to completely disregard things that go wrong – you won’t learn how to be better if you do – but nor can you let those things beat you up and upset you. Constructive reflection is how you do that; be as objective as you can about what happened, work out why it may not have been as effective as you were hoping, and then come up with a plan to make it better. As my partner has told me, you’ve only failed if you haven’t learnt from your mistakes. And you will make them, I’m sorry to say; it’s part of the job. But that’s not a bad thing, as long as you use your mistakes to adjust your practice and become better.

So don’t let a handful of bad things ruin your mood; constructively reflect, make a plan, and then let them go. Because the chances are that there have been plenty of positives that you may have forgotten about!

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