From 8:00 to 8:15 every morning on alternate weeks, I walk downstairs to perform cafeteria duty before school. I stroll around and tell students I do not know to remove hats, to put up phones, and to hide their Ipods. I make sure they don't throw trash in the floor and that they don't scream too loudly.
I detest cafeteria duty! Cafeteria duty is the worst part of my day, and I will agree to perform just about any other task to keep from having cafeteria duty before school!
However, when I leave the cafeteria and walk back upstairs to my classroom and begin my day with students, I am happy, contented, and enthusiastic even after all of these years. In fact, if I listed all of the duties I have to perform daily, the duties that are highest on my happiness level are those duties that directly involve working with my students, and, conversely, tasks that generally spark unhappiness are those that do not involve working with my students.
Because I suspected that most teachers were equally happy inside their own classrooms, I was appalled last week when I asked my AP English seniors to respond on our online class discussion forum to the prompt:
Looking back over your many years in school, you have had many good teachers, a few outstanding teachers, and perhaps even a few teachers who were less inspiring and less effective. Describe two character traits of teachers or practices of teachers that you find most helpful, useful, or inspiring and explain why. Then give two character traits or practices that you find particularly frustrating or of little help.
This morning when I read their replies, I was astonished and saddened that 31% of all students who participated in this totally unscientific forum stated that the teacher characteristic that is most exasperating to them involves teachers who do not like teaching or who are discontented in the classroom. Some students actually stated that they have had teachers who told students that they hated teaching or that they were only teaching until they could find better jobs.
31% of students expressed this view, and only AP English students participated in the forum. What would the figure have been if younger or less academically advanced students had participated?
Imagine how students must feel to walk into a classroom each day and face a teacher who does not want to be there or a teacher who is unhappy. How difficult it must be to learn if the teacher exhibits no pleasure or joy in learning.
Imagine how difficult it must be for a teacher who does not like teaching to walk inside a classroom and face scores of energetic students all day. The only way I can even grasp this concept is to imagine how I would feel if I walked into every class with the same sense of dread I feel when I walk downstairs to cafeteria duty.
I have no answers for such unhappiness. I wish cheerful, enthusiastic, and energetic teachers greeted all of our students inside each classroom because I realize that students perform better when they are surrounded by passionate teachers. I suppose, however, that it is unrealistic to think that all students will have such vibrant teachers, and, thankfully, most students can still learn even in the presence of unhappy teachers. . . .
I have no answers for teachers who are so unhappy, particularly when our economy is so poor and jobs are so sparse. I can't imagine what it must be like to report to a job I do not enjoy every day, and I hope in the future they will find jobs that are more enjoyable and fulfilling. Our students deserve better.
I suspect, however, that a great deal of teacher discontent that our students witness is temporary, found only in those classes where students are particularly challenging or difficult to teach, or at times when we are tired or experiencing personal problems. We've all been there. We all know what it's like to count down the minutes until the difficult students leave our classrooms and the fun and caring students arrive. We all know what it's like to have to handle difficult personal or family concerns that often create grief or tension that bleeds over into our classrooms.
Sometimes when we are unhappy with our jobs or our students, we have to resort to the classic teacher tactic of faking it. If we are unhappy and pretend that we are happy, our attitudes very often change; students very often react more positively, and at the end of the day, we do indeed feel greater happiness than we expected.
So, when I walk to cafeteria duty, instead of complaining, I keep saying, "I love cafeteria duty!"
I'm not going to say that I've reached the point that I truly love it, but I like it much better than when I start my morning whining and moaning about cafeteria duty.
Besides, at least I don't have to monitor the cafeteria during lunch!