Muting The Naysayers

The first day that teachers report back to work is always filled with hope. There is the return to a pure idealism that was hard to hold onto in late June. But, after a summer recharge, that first gathering of faculty and staff is the mark of a new beginning. Teachers, leaders, and administrators are all excited about new initiatives, new approaches, and a new set of students. The exchange of summer stories is met with the acknowledgement that the summer may have passed quickly, but there is generally no complaint because “it’s about time.”

Teachers have that excitement, much like baseball players have when they first return for Spring Training. A new year makes for infinite possibilities. Many teachers spent part of their summers in classes or professional development sessions, preparing to be better at their craft. Other teachers spent part of the summer writing curriculum, choosing new materials, all with the goal of making schools better for kids. Late in the summer, many teachers would come in, set up their rooms with materials that were mostly purchased out of their own pockets, finalize their opening day activities, and sketch out a tentative plan for the year. There is excitement. There is hope. And, yes, there is idealism. Thankfully, there is idealism.

And, that day one gathering doesn’t dampen that feeling. The District Administration introduces new teachers, offering an injection of fresh ideas and some new vigor to the profession. You get to hear from an inspirational speaker who offers even more optimism as you begin your new year.

Everything is positive until you see “that person.”

Every district—really, every profession—has that one person. No matter how long of a break they had, no matter how positive everyone is around them, no matter how much potential there is to do some good in a world that really needs some of that, this person will find the negative. He/She will generally start the initial meeting with something along the lines of, “Can you believe we are back? My schedule sucks. My classes look terrible.” They complain that the morning speakers were a waste of time and that they got nothing out of it. These are the same people who think that every professional development session is beneath them.

Unfortunately, he/she is not alone. There is a small segment of the profession that feels that way. These are the people who lost their way some time ago or got into teaching for every wrong reason possible. Either way, these are the people who waste a year of a kid’s life, a time when a positive, life altering impact could have been made. They certainly aren’t the majority, but they are loud and give the rest of us—the majority of us—a really bad name. 

There was a time when I let those people run right through their routine. No matter what time of year it was, if you bumped into them they would be complaining. Sadly, I would stand there and listen, often nodding my head just to get through it. Sure, everyone has their bad days and needs to vent, but these are the people who don’t want to be there, have little to no interest in kids, and are always miserable. I’d let them talk poorly about their classes, how bad “these kids” are now, and how the next vacation is too far away so they need to take at least one mental health day. 

Shame on me.

Shame on me for not sticking up for the profession. Worse, shame on me for not sticking up for the kids who come to school everyday expecting the adult to be “all in” or at least wanting to be there. 

Honestly, it was easier to ignore them and just move on. But, that sort of attitude doesn’t make the profession better. It doesn’t empower those who want to be positive about the job, want to be positive about kids, and want to try different things. I thought about that with the new teachers starting out this year. That level of passion should be applauded, not tempered.

During my first year of teaching, I was called “youthfully arrogant” because I felt that every kid could get through the 8th grade curriculum. I remember that I designed a program that would target kids who were struggling. I would stay after school with them, feed them, and work with them one on one. When I met with the Principal, he was happy to see the effort and asked how I would assess their learning. I stayed until 8:00 PM that night, designing a rubric. But, the next day, at my team meeting, I was called “youthfully arrogant” by a veteran colleague and basically laughed at for the idea. I was told that I was “too new” and that I would one day understand that this was all just “idealism and unrealistic.”

21 years later, I am still waiting to I understand. 21 years later, I am more idealistic than I have ever been. 

I still believe that every kid can learn. I still believe that it can all be done, even if it takes extra work. Learning is not linear. I guess I would now be “old and arrogant”.

But, that team meeting did leave an impression on me that took a long time to get out from underneath. I learned to keep a lot of my idealism to myself. I’d close my classroom door and be how I wanted to be with my classes, but I’d hide that from the majority of my colleagues. I’d let them talk negatively and never let them see me put in extra work. And, that was dumb. Because I was essentially shamed for wanting to do more, I missed out on talking with colleagues about good ideas, how to get better, and how to push through challenges in the classroom. I could have learned so much more in those early years had I not kept to myself.

Why do we let the few, negative people shame us for liking the job and wanting to do more?

Why do we empower these people so they feel like they can walk into our classroom after those first day district meetings when we are quietly working on writing notes in our new students’ agenda books and mock us for wanting to do more, adding a little personal touch, and making kids feel like we want them here?

Why do we allow these people to dominate the talk in the copy room or teacher break room? Why do we allow these people to just broadcast negative feelings about a professional development session or a guest speaker and end all possible positive conversation that may lead to better ideas for the rest of us? 

Most importantly, why do we allow these (again, few) people to think it is alright to feel this way about the job and about kids?

Admittedly, it is difficult to stand up to it. That negativity, even from such a small segment of the profession, is tough to shout over. And, every time you try to step out and do something so positive, you are inevitably met with criticism, sarcasm, and, sometimes, even anger. It’s as if these people try seek out those who are positive and bring them down as if writing a note to middle school kids in their agendas is anything but incredibly great. 

I once shied away from all of that. Starting this website was a big deal for me because I knew that once I started writing and putting it out there, I would hear it. Those negative people would say their peace. I wasn’t disappointed. I was called weird. I would get the sarcastic comment about an article or even a particular sentence. I was warned that I may offend others.

But, a funny thing happened. More colleagues said positive things and shared ideas. Discussions became more passionate. Some, who I hadn’t spoken to about education, well…ever, were suddenly having in-depth discussions with me about ideas.  There were more of us and once we allowed ourselves to step out from the naysayers, good ideas began to flow. Those ideas help me to be better in the classroom.

Now, more than ever, it is important for us to mute the naysayers. With politicians doing everything they can to challenge the public education system, those of us who are all in must continue to push the industry to innovate, block out the noise and negativity, and always do what is in the best interest of kids. We must silence those naysayers and relegate them to the corner because they are the minority. They are not the predominate ones. Right now, they are loudest ones because we allow them to be.

But, there are more of us. 

There are more us who, after two decades in the classroom decide that he wants to change up everything he does in the room because he feels that it will engage more kids. He knows it won’t be easy, but he wants to try. There are more of us who sit and write welcome letters to students a week before classes start so that the kids know they have a teacher who is excited to have them. There are more of us who, after sitting through the district PD sessions and department meeting, decide to change everything she was planning to do for the first week because she was inspired to do so, even though her original plan was already good. There are more of us who want to give our new students a fair chance rather than hearing a naysayer give the supposed lowdown on all of the things that kid did wrong last year. There are more of us who can finally admit that we really like the job and that we are damn good at it.

I once told young teachers to avoid faculty rooms and department offices as they were the playground for all things negative. That was horrible advice. Instead young and veteran teachers alike should hold onto that idealism that fuels our passion and what we do for kids everyday. We must do everything to make those naysayers realize that they are the minority, that the problem is them, not the kids or system, and that they should either change or leave. 

There is nothing wrong with idealism. There is nothing wrong with loving the job. There is nothing wrong with wanting to do more, wanting to create, and wanting to innovate. There is nothing wrong with wanting to treat students well, treat them as equals in learning, and wanting to give them more options and chances. 

The passion for education and the love of teaching isn’t something that should be shamed. We owe it to the profession to honor that, foster that, and applaud the innovation, the excellent lessons, and all of the positive benefits it brings to kids. 

Don’t be afraid to say something positive about your students or the profession. Don’t be afraid to want to do extra for a kid. Don’t be afraid to give second and third chances to kids. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t be afraid to take a chance and be innovative with lessons.  Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. The majority of us are with you and doing the same thing. The majority of us want to collaborate, talk about ideas, and do better. Mute the naysayers and relegate them to them to irrelevancy.  They don’t represent the rest the of us; they never did. Now, we just have to be louder than them. It’s time.