Combatting the negativity

I was clearing out a cupboard recently and discovered some old cards from one of the schools that I had taught in. They were leaving cards that said “Thank you” and said “we will miss you” and is probably the same sort of thing that many teachers have received as they leave to go onto pastures new or these days take early retirement or maybe face the search for a job after their dismissal because their student’s grades  are too low!

In the midst of one card was a small oblong card which had been covered with plastic. It had a statement on it which was written in the ornate script used in medieval books and beautifully designed… here is a picture of it:

This was a beautiful thing to receive and it had obviously taken someone time to do. I looked at it and it made me think of the implications of the statement. Yes, teaching can touch lives and change people’s perspectives on life, or reinforce their feelings about their interests. At its best, teaching can inspire people to follow in a particular path and achieve great things that will take people higher and further than the inspirer had got to or would ever go.

But there is another, darker, aspect of where teaching can touch a life forever. It is in respect of negativity. The sort that Pink Floyd sang about in their classic song “Another Brick In  the Wall“. In this scenario the teacher is the stopper, the wall that leads to a full stop, the crusher of dreams and the pourer of cold water on the heat of passion and interest.See the videoAdd New here and ask yourself what it says about negativity… the “dark sarcasm in the classroom”.

I have seen too many times in my career the type of teacher who says to a child, that is wrong, you haven’t learnt that, you will never succeed if you do that. I have experienced the atmosphere of negativity where the teacher has a low opinion of the children in their charge… “what can you expect of them.. you know the sort of family that they come from”.

I have to admit that I am encouraged to see the type of totally negative teacher that I grew up with disappearing from our schools. I can see younger teachers with a more positive outlook, but I fear for these teachers because they are coming into a system where the results are more important than the development of the passions and abilities of the child. It often leads to negativity.. the “you need to do this in order to succeed, you need to achieve this result or you will suffer for the rest of your life” (for which read: You will need to succeed or my job may be on the line!).

Teaching can, in the best sense, touch a life forever. We must though combat negativity in our classrooms and realise that in the best examples of where this has happened it is because of the teacher’s belief that every child can succeed and that every child deserves to fulfil their potential.

I recently had an ex-pupil get in touch with me through Facebook. She explained how she had overcome a pretty negative childhood to gain academic success and was now training to be a solicitor (lawyer). Her final statement in her last message was:

Hope you are happy and healthy, and again, thank you. I think primary school is such a crucial age when kids should learn to learn for learning’s sake, and to explore and enjoy. For me, education was my way out of a pretty dismal life. Good teachers inspire us to chase our dreams to freedom.

I have to admit that was the best report on my teaching career that I had ever received. Maybe, just maybe, I had touched someone’s life in a positive way… and forever.

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One thought on “Combatting the negativity

  1. Malcolm, it is really great to see posts like this.

    As a trainee it is so important for me to focus on all the positive examples and advice I see from experienced teachers.

    I do hope the examples you gave of the darker side continue to diminish, I have started to see how the grind for results can have a negative effect on everyone and in many ways ruin that which they aim to achieve.

    Hopefully more ways to analyse the great things schools and teachers do which can’t be easily graded will come to light in the future.

    I look forward to the day I receive a message like the one from your ex-pupil 🙂

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