Perspective: Positive outlooks create foundation for healthy schools

In recent weeks I had the privilege of hearing two highly renowned educational consultants speak on the importance of educators taking a positive approach to their job and to how they represent their profession.

Dr. Bill Daggett spoke in Columbia on Nov. 1 and said educators can no longer allow a few negative naysayers to speak for the entire field of education.

Dr. Anthony Muhammad spoke to staff members in the Jefferson City Public School District on Jan. 2-3 and he too talked about how being positive helps build a healthy school culture.

By nature, I’m a thinker, and I like to process insights and information shared by individuals like Daggett and Muhammad. And the educator part in me loves to pass that information on to others.

As I reflected on what I had learned from Daggett and Muhammad, two different friends shared two different education-related articles with me (one article was in the Washington Post and included the resignation letter of a teacher in North Carolina; the other article was from the online Huffington Post).

Both articles were written by educators who were frustrated, disheartened and disgruntled.

They were a sharp contrast to the uplifting messages shared by Daggett and Muhammad.

To be clear, a lot of demands are indeed placed upon teachers and we all understand that job-related challenges can add pressure to anyone in any profession. There is certainly no crime in identifying problems and looking for solutions.

But the teachers who crafted the two articles I mentioned went entirely too far in how they aired out their complaints.

They wrote how they were stressed, belittled, unappreciated, and not supported.

They used inflammatory language, saying they were “lambasted by parents,” having to “cave in to the insane ravings of the confused and misguided.” One described those who disagreed with him as “deluded people.” He also wrote that he had to work in an “environment of mistrust” and submit to “meaningless data … oppressive teacher evaluation methods … (and) perpetual, insane harassment from parents …”

Let me ask you this. Who do you want teaching your children and grandchildren?

Do you want a teacher who sees administrators, superintendents, board members, parents, and politicians as part of the problem—or worse—as enemies? Or do you want someone in the classroom who is grateful for the opportunity to change young lives and who brings an encouraging demeanor to work each day?

Honestly, we all want the latter.

Now, there are two things I must say next that are extremely important.

First, the vast majority of American educators are not in such a negative state of mind. Schools are full of good teachers wanting to help young people. Some of the very best individuals I know or have known are teachers. Some of the best I’ve seen work for JCPS.

Second, even those few who are negative and vocal, as unhappy as they sometimes appear, still raise some valid concerns.

It’s true that teachers get frustrated. It’s true that some parents aren’t supportive. It’s true that teachers are asked to do more and more each year. And it’s true that sometimes even the very best teachers do not feel appreciated.

It’s a tough job.

But one of the main requirements of that tough job is that those of us in education can’t allow frustrations or disappointments to set the tone for how we do business with our children.

The writers of the articles in question used an approach that had an angry edge. We all get angry at times—sometimes a little indignation may be warranted when we are standing upon principle—but when a person’s anger creates an “us-versus-them” mentality, it isn’t helpful.

My guess is that the writers weren’t looking at things from the vantage point of a parent who is trying his or her best to pay the bills, or from that of an elected official who is truly trying to serve the voters, or from that of the student who didn’t get a real meal all weekend before coming to school on Monday, or from that of the administrator who is trying to make a decision that is fair to everyone involved.

The challenges in education require that teachers, parents, business leaders, community members, administrators and political leaders work as a team. To have a productive dialogue requires a great deal of respect for everyone at the table, and much more diplomacy than the writers demonstrated.

David Wilson, EdD, is one of the assistant principals at Jefferson City High School. You may e-mail him at david.wilson@jcschools.us.

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