A student had just managed to push all my buttons at once, for the 10th time during the same lesson. Let’s just say I was tired of counting to 10 in my head and not exploding all over him already. But, yay me, I was really holding it together. Remember, I thought to myself, this is someone’s child, he doesn’t really mean to be so disruptive, he didn’t wake up thinking, “Let me drive the Morah crazy!” He must be having his own problems. No child is really bad, they are just in a bad situation. So instead of lacing into him, I just burst out laughing. It had the desired effect. The child thought I had gone a bit crazy and gave me an extremely puzzled look. I used that minute to get him back on track and joked with him about something totally inane. Again he had no idea where his actual morah had gone, cause this lady was way too calm. He started working. Bomb defused, crisis averted.
It’s really all about perspective. Have a positive one and everything seems better. Isn’t that what hakarat hatov is all about? Being thankful for the little things as well as the big ones. I mean we all understand that we should be appreciative of our family, health, roofs over our heads, food on the table etc., but do we also appreciate the little things? How appreciative am I when as a middle school teacher (yeah, I know…but hey, middle schoolers are awesome… they also might be reading this…), little Joey Shmoey is busy pushing my buttons?? Do I thank Hashem at that precise moment for the rise in blood pressure? Do I say to myself, life just doesn’t get any better and who is counting the days unril winter break? Not me…So how do I get a positive perspective when I am ready to explode on an unruly student, or implode, since I can’t very well explode, can I?
But, it isn’t only about Joey. There are lesson plans, disrespectful students, their sometimes difficult parents, busy schedules and at the end of the day trying to make time for my husband, children, supper, shopping, cleaning—okay, Supergirl, move over. So you can fly, big deal…
Do I always handle challenging students in a calm and even upbeat way? I wish I could say yes, but I’d be lying. There have been times throughout my 30-plus years of teaching that I found myself loudly admonishing an unruly student and am ashamed to say, as a result, embarrassing him in front of his peers. It happens to all of us at one time or another. If you ask the student, he’s usually not even aware that he was doing anything wrong, the teacher was just picking on him, everyone else was talking, she hates me etc. They are usually clueless as to the reason for the rebuke. They are just trying to make their friends laugh, not aggravate the teacher.
Discipline is the key factor in a classroom. Without it, a teacher cannot teach and students cannot learn. But how to achieve it? There are some educators who don’t need to work as hard. They look authoritative and the children are immediately docile and responsive. Then there are the rest of us. We smile a lot, and aren’t the ones who are known as “the strictest” in the student world, and instead of being thankful, they take advantage.
This is exactly where positive thinking needs to come in. Hakarat hatov plays a big role here in the classroom. It is always a matter of perspective. Joey Shmoey wants to make his friends laugh. Maybe little Joey wants to have more friends. His social life is much more important to him than doing well in class. He needs to feel good and popular. Doing work is definitely not cool, but acting like he doesn’t care definitely is.
What a wonderful job I have. I have the chance to affect my students’ lives. Especially Joey Shmoey. He is my challenge. Help him change his perspective. Help him see that succeeding as a student is cool and will help him become a true leader. Positive attention, not negative, wins.
“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”—Albert Schweitzer
While I am trying to light Joey’s spark, he is, in fact, lighting mine. He is making me thankful that I have this amazing zechut to be teaching a generation of children who will make an impact on this world, each in his or her own way. If our students made it too easy for us, then where’s the challenge? The sweet victory? It is precisely when a teacher reaches a child like Joey that she knows why she went into education all those years ago. Lighting a flame, a passion for learning, an opportunity for this child to be appreciative that he has this amazing opportunity to know, question and learn. He has the unique chance to grow as an individual, improve his middot, connect with his peers on a positive level. And if Joey learns a little less Hebrew in the process, but grows in other ways, I still will have been successful. If he learns to hone his many talents in a more positive way, he will feel successful and gain a deeper understanding of how really fortunate he is. Of how fortunate we all are.
So, push my buttons, little Joey. I am ready for you. I am ready to see you as the sweet child I know you really are. I am ready to look at you in a clear light that shines on your talents, and you, too, will see yourself as accomplished and ready to share your spark with others.
By Robin Elbaz
Robin Elbaz is a teacher at Yavneh Academy.