We are four weeks in, and it would be a typical Marni move to paint a picture of sunshine, rainbows, and history puns. But I gotta tell you guys: It hasn’t been the smoothest of starts, by any means. Between a broken copy machine, a missing office manager, an assistant principal out on paternity leave, a broken grading system, and 45% new staff (including a new principal), the Universe was trying to be like the Russian in Rocky IV and make us prove ourselves.
On top of this, I’m having a really rough time winning over my ninth grade Reading Labbers this year. Some of these lovely kiddos are giving me major ‘tude. And I’m not talking your typical eye-rolling, silent-treatment teen ‘tude. Rather: the kind of ‘tude that makes you think not-so-nice-thoughts then feel really bad about thinking those not-so-nice thoughts.
But as someone who likes to see herself as a glass-half-full kind of gal, I tried my darnedest to look on the bright side and be a positive, encouraging teacher-leader in the building. I stayed upbeat and corny with my ‘tudetastic students. “Hi guys! So good to see you! Let’s take our books out and read! Yay!” But it was hard.
Teaching, especially these precious first weeks, is hard enough when everything is going smooth. You gotta be a tough cookie to not get bogged down by all the negative minutiae. But there I was, Week Two, not channeling my inner tough-cookie, and feeling eerily similar to the helplessness I felt my first year teaching.
I began to realize that I needed to shut this journey to Negative Nancy town down. So, I began to give myself pep-talks in the second person: “Cut it out Marn! You are in your ninth year teaching! You are Ms. Spitz, damn it! You make kids laugh, and learn, and love reading, and you include cheesy Justin Timberlake clip art on your handouts! You need to get a grip and remember what you do!”
I once read that it takes 10 compliments to make up for every one insult. Yikes. But I am Rocky! I can do this! Per the suggestion of my instructional coach, I began a tally of all the positive “wins” I witnessed throughout the day so that I would stop focusing on those insults, and begin galvanizing those compliments.
Here is a snapshot of a 1-10 ratio:
Negative point: “Do we have to read, Ms. Spitz? It’s so boring. I don’t want to read. It’s so boring.” A pause. “Seriously though: Do we have to?”
+ In the hallway, a ninth grader going out of her way to tell me she was loving her book.
+ At lunch, a ninth grader who reported she “strongly disliked” reading being found reading her book at the cafeteria table. (Did I mention it was during lunch?)
+ One of my 11th graders reminding another student to “Please put your feet down! We are Scholars! Professional Posture!”
+ A former student asking me if I had a copy of Kaffir Boy because she loved reading it in my class freshman year and wants her younger brother to read it.
+ A current reading labber asking me everyday for the past week when she can get her Kindle because she keeps finishing books so fast.
+ A student who had been giving me ‘tude saying “Hi Ms. Spitz” at the door on her way into class, with a smile. (OK, maybe it was a half smile, but it still totally counts.)
+ Another student who had been giving me ‘tude asking if she could keep her volleyball bag in my room after school because she felt my room was “safe.”
+ A student telling me he had already finished his book. And when I said: “Really? I’m so proud of you!” he replied: “Well I’m almost done but I knew it’d make you happy.”
+ Our first monthly staff potluck of the year going off without a hitch and filled with so much laughter, and…there was an ample supply of watermelon-feta-mint salad. (I love watermelon-feta-mint salad.)
+ My former reading labbers returning to my classroom to check out books from my library because apparently, my library is “hella good.”
Rocky for the win!
Add to those 10 plus points a newly working copy machine, a vice principal returning, a functioning gradebook, and a resilient and dedicated staff — our cup runneth over!
And so I have returned to my unyielding belief in the power of optimism — especially now that I am making myself a watermelon-feta-mint salad for every ten tallies I get.