I believe that a positive attitude is one of the best assets a person can have and share with others. I never knew how important a positive attitude could be until I became a teacher.
I enjoyed teaching many subjects in the realm of English education during my 37 year tenure, and one of my favorite classes to teach was a lower level English II class. These 10th grade students came from varied backgrounds: some were under achievers; some were children of alcoholics and home issues prevented them from focusing on success in school; some were in recovery themselves, and some had a learning disability like dyslexia, ADD, ADHD, etc. The one thing that all of these students had in common was their lack of success in school. They were grouped together for their four main course subjects: English, Social Studies, Biology, and Math, in a special program at North Allegheny, and I was lucky to be an anchor teacher in this program for 33 of my 35 years at NA. I loved these students and these classes, but it was not easy. You see, because of their lack of success in school, some of the kids came to class with negative attitudes toward not only learning, but also toward themselves. For me to be able to teach them, and for them to be able to learn, their attitudes had to change.
I made sure on that very first day of school to tell them that I was so happy that I was to be their teacher for the year. I remember some of them exchanging glances, as if to say "Is she for real?" I told them that I did not care about their grades from last year or any other year, because tenth grade was a new start. I let them know that I was there as a support system and available for help, but they had to put forth some real effort, because it would be OUR class, and everyone would contribute and everyone would be important. As a strong believer in high expectations, I shared my ideas with them, as well as some tidbits about the upcoming curriculum, and how much they would enjoy learning. I also told them how much I loved teaching, and that I was excited to begin a new school year with them. In a very nice way, I explained that no one could put anyone down in front of the class, and that all negativity had to be left outside in the hall and not brought into the class. Everyone had to respect everyone else, and no one would interrupt when someone else was speaking. I also said that I wanted our class to be someplace that everyone felt safe; safe for being themselves, safe for learning, and safe for sharing ideas, no matter how outlandish. I said that there would be no self put-downs, because to maintain a positive attitude, a person must believe in himself.
Not only did I say these important things at the beginning of the year, our class lived them every day. Some days, keeping the positive attitude going was challenging, to say the least. Of course, kids would say things like, "I am so stupid!" The entire class was in on the positive attitude adjustment, and the perpetrator of negativity would receive a soft rebuke from his peers. And guess what? Something wonderful happens when others believe in you as a person, and as a learner. Unexpectedly, you start to believe in yourself. I saw this happen time and time again in my years in the classroom, and suddenly grades and self-esteem were on the rise, and students would begin to take risks as learners, and school was no longer something they were not very good at doing. All because of an attitude adjustment.
Many of my former students moved up to more difficult classes and went on to college. You see, their attitudes, not their aptitudes, really did determine their altitudes.
A teacher has a powerful influence over young minds. Although it is sometimes difficult, and even though students can be very trying, make sure your influence is positive in every class, every day.
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