I recently had a baby boy, and during the expected lack of sleep and increased irritability on my own part, I noticed something very important. When I am in a bad mood, easily annoyed and snappy, so are the students.
It’s not like I’ve been completely losing my cool, or raising my voice in actual anger. I’ve just been a little bit less tolerant for the usual things—you know—Mario and Billy (Not their real names), lingering on my couches after the last bell rings instead of sitting at their desks. Or Hartmut (again, not real), talking over me. Of course part of it had to do with the fact that they had a sub for two weeks while I was on leave, and after that they always need a little reminding about who is boss. All that aside, there is a noticeable difference between my own mood and the mood of the class.
This isn’t anything new. I’ve noticed this for years. I’ve talked to many teachers about the importance of a good night’s sleep. On days when I’m running on cup after cup of coffee alone, I rarely have one of those days when I really knock it out of the park. Conversely, on days when I’m still amped up and shaking hands at the door for 6th period, I go home with a smile on my face and find I even have the energy to do the dishes and cook dinner.
I recently read a good article on Teacher, Revised, about teaching with depression. It reminds me of how candy-coated this all sounds in the REAL world. Like the rest of civilization, we have personal problems, devastating events, economic trouble, and like me, baby boys who have trouble pooing and get all mad about it. Yet every day we are supposed to walk into class with a smile on our faces. I’m not going to tell you to make sure you’re happy every day of the week. I would just suggest you try it out for more days of the week than not.
In fact, I’ll take it a step further and tell you to try purposely having a bad day every once in awhile. Some days, when I know I’m not feeling my usual inspirational smiling role-modeling, I just put on a dark hoody, some sneakers, roll into class half asleep and tell kids right away I’m not in the mood. This works like a ghetto charm, because if these kids understand one thing, it’s anger. I’m not telling you to actually get angry (in fact you should never REALLY get angry, ever), you just need to hint at it. Tell them you are going to be angry, and give them long teacher stares to start class. Just make sure you don’t do this very much. I’ll roll in with a frown once a month, and it will remind them they can’t mess with me.
But in the end, you can’t live your life that way, and you can’t run your class that way. Next time you’re having a really bad day, you’re at your wits end, and you have that one class coming up next—you know—5th period Sheltered where ten of the kids are going to come in late, and one of them walks in four minutes after the bell and proclaims as loud as he can, “I’m not late!”—Greet them with a smile. Tell them you’re glad they came to class and ask them to get to their desks quick because you’ve already started class. Then go around the class and shake some hands, smile at some kids, and ask them about their parents. You’ll be surprised at how powerful a smile and an obvious good attitude from you can turn around their own moods.
I’ve been doing this all week, and trust me, my son is still livid at his intestines. But I’ve really focused on focusing my positive energy into every class, and it’s working like the ghetto charm. Because this week, I’m absolutely tearing it up.