The job of a teacher is to be optimistic, for ourselves and our students. We are supposed to teach students to be ambitious, to push themselves, to be the best they can.
I count myself as an optimist – it’s been essential in all my achievements so far. Who would bother to put in all the hard work with the belief that “it’ll probably fail anyway?”
That said, I’m also realistic, and that’s important too. Unchecked optimism, although inspiring, will lead to disappointment if the work involved isn’t also understood. I remember at year 11 parents’ evening a couple of years ago, a parent asked me if I thought their child, who had done very little work in two years, would get the grade they wanted. I said it was unlikely. Of course, I was optimistic for that student, but I needed to be realistic.
How do we cultivate that feeling of realistic optimism in our students though? They need to be ambitious about what they can achieve but prepared for the hard graft of the journey.
Create a positive feeling in your classroom
One of the great things about teaching is that there is always something to feel good about, sometimes it’s just how well a class came into the room on time, other times it could be an assessment grade. Make a point of stating with that, I’m not saying hide the negatives – just start with something good.
I know there’s a lot of content to learn, I teach English Literature – the syallabus is massive. But there is always time to start with an activity that is fun, something light and interesting to engage and excite. When I’m tired this can be the hardest thing do to – but that’s what it’s most important!
Take time to share inspiration, not just content
The world is full of inspiring stories – people overcoming adversity to achieve great things. Sometimes these can link to the things you’re teaching. Sometimes just taking that time out to talk about the success of an ex-student could make a real difference to their own ambition.
Be clear about how difficult something is going to be
Being honest about the challenge is not going to put your students off – it’ll prepare them for what’s to come. Tell them the next year will be difficult – some of you, those who step up to the challenge, will do well, those who don’t are going to struggle. That’s up to you.
Avoid comparison, unless it’s showing what a good one looks like
Some teachers swear by competition, I get how it can be useful – but personally, I’d only use it for memory tests. A students’ only competition is themselves. For students who’ve worked hard, seeing a classmate laze about and then fluke the test is frustrating, off-putting and doesn’t set the right tone.
Everything is practise
No one dies in our jobs. You can get it wrong and come back the next day and do it again. So let’s give it a really good go and see what happens.
One failed assessment can feel like the end of the world to a student who has worked really hard. I know how this feels, earlier in the year I failed one of the assessments for my masters – I wrote about it here. But in a couple of months time, it won’t matter, you learn from it and move on.
Do you think you can be a teacher without being optimistic?
Can someone be taught to be optimistic?
Photo by Allef Vinicius on Unsplash