Why I Keep a Supply of Cheery Thoughts Nearby

A MiddleWeb Blog

Teachers have to keep lots of records. But the most important records I keep include a folder in my email inbox and a hard copy manila folder in a drawer at home. Both are titled, “Cheery Thoughts.”

And the reason I have them is because there are Those Days.

Because there will be the day you brought the wrong folder to school which means you forgot the one that has the piece of paper with all your notes on it of what minutes to show in the video, and so you fumble and try to quickly figure it out before the bell rings.

But you can’t and the bell rings and they file in, and while you are trying to cue up the video to the right spot, two students get into a tiff and someone drops the f-bomb and you really don’t know what happened because you were trying to cue up the video, and if you had only remembered to bring that stupid folder, you wouldn’t be in this predicament in the first place.

But then you fix it, and it all works out okay, and you feel better because it really is the perfect video clip to illustrate the role of women in the Civil War, so you are glad you spent the extra hour looking for it even though it meant you didn’t get to finish all your grading, but then you overhear a kid in the hallway ask another, “what are we doing in history today?” and the student answers, “Nothing, really. It was kinda boring.”

Because there will be the day when one of your students, who has lied to you before, comes into class 15 minutes late with a pass from the nurse, but you know it is not from the nurse because the nurse has very distinctive passes, and when you email the nurse to confirm, she says, “No, the student wasn’t here,” so you chew out the student and write up a referral, and as soon as you finish, you see you have another email from the nurse, who says that actually that student was at the nurse’s office, and now you look like the jerk.

Because there will be a time when you have collected notebooks so you can check in on an assignment, and one of the students you worry about has drawn a noose with the words “help me” over it.

Because somehow, when you were walking over to try to reach out to the school social worker about the drawing in the notebook, you set down the pile of handouts you prepared for your afternoon classes and now you can’t find them anywhere.

Because there will be the day that you take the kids to the library to participate in a mock election right before the real election, and you are excited because the librarian has contacted the League of Women Voters who have set up real election booths in the library. And you have spent so much time in class discussing the importance of voting. And after they vote the students will come back to class and read an article you found about the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. And as you are walking back from the library, you overhear a kid say “walk really slowly so we don’t have to go back to class right away.”

Because you have just graded a student’s essay, and you are so impressed because this student has been struggling all year with writing and getting work in on time. You write all kinds of positive comments on the essay, but then three essays later, you are reading another essay when you realize it is EXACTLY the same as the one from the struggling student.

Because while updating grades, you notice that one of your students is missing a fair number of assignments. You thoughtfully send home an email expressing concern and reminding the parents where all the assignments can be found online and the parent emails back and wants to know why you didn’t email sooner and whether she can have hard copies of all the assignments and readings by four o’clock because the family is heading out of town in the car and won’t have wifi and so she needs hard copies right now.
Because there will be the day that you are exhausted, because finally – at 11:30 at night – you figured out a really cool way to teach about America’s entry into World War I that involved cutting up lots of slips of paper and putting them in envelopes and getting to school early to rearrange the desks and the lesson ending up being…drumroll…one hundred percent meh.

Because the date you just confirmed with the Vietnam veteran who agreed to speak to all your classes is the same date as the choir rehearsal and so you will be missing about a third of your students.

If you are lucky, you won’t have too many days like these . . .

But for when you do – and we all do –

Make yourself two things: a folder in your email for all the nice emails you get from current students, past students and parents. And a real folder for the cards and notes you get. Label them “Cheery Thoughts” or whatever cheers you up.

When you have a bad day, open up the folder and read the email from a mom who thanks you for being such an inspiration to her son who has never liked school very much but really loves your class and often tells her about all the cool stuff you are teaching.

Or the one from the student you had last year who tells you how she used something you talked about in eighth grade in her essay for world history class in high school and that she got an A on it and she wanted to thank you for that and say hi because she misses you. Or the holiday card from the student who says he never realized that history could be so interesting.

Tomorrow will be another day. Yes, there will be days that will make you want to go home and cry. Even when you have been teaching for years and think you have seen it all. But, as Frederick Douglass once said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”

So when you struggle, pull out the card that you got at the end of last year from that kid who always seemed bored. Maybe it says something similar to the card I got: “I know it didn’t always seem like it, but I really liked your class. Thank you for making us think.”

Lauren S. Brown

Lauren S. Brown (@USHistoryIdeas) has taught U.S. history, sociology and world geography in public middle and high schools in the Midwest. She currently teaches 8th grade U.S. history in suburban Chicago. Lauren has also supervised pre-service social studies teachers and taught social studies methods courses. Her degrees include an M.A. in History from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her blog U.S. History Ideas for Teachers is insightful and packed with resources.

3 Responses

  1. Jo Meridith says:

    This is a hoot and SO REAL. One of the nicest things a club ever did was have all the kids write thank you Post-its to their teachers. When we came in the next day, they were stuck all over the doorframes like a colorful arch. Those kept me going for years…

  2. Nancy Z. says:

    Yes, this article made me laugh. It’s me in so many ways. I can never grade papers during the day because I’m always dealing with putting out fires. But then there’s the small daily satisfactions, like the negative teen who told me his parents have forbidden him from complaining about his teachers at home, so the only teachers he talks about are me and one other teacher.

  3. Lauren Brown says:

    What a great idea! I love this it! Thanks for your comment.

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