A teacher’s duty to be cheerful

by Mr. Sheehy

I know things are not right in my head when I starting reacting to classroom situations in odd ways. For example, today my freshmen were not getting into my poetry lessons. I was reading and showing a poem to them, and there in front of me, one of my top students was falling asleep. Stab me with a broken pencil, why don’t you?

So I changed my plan for the next class. Instead of reading the poems to my students, I sectioned them off into groups and let them explore the poem a bit themselves – see what they could discover through some silly conversation. An inevitable and infamously contagious chorus of “I don’t get this” erupted.

And so, after they had all left me and I was alone in my classroom, I told them what I thought: “I read it to you, and it’s boring and poetry is dumb. I let you read it, and you don’t get it and poetry is dumb. What am I supposed to do?”

This, of course, means I am tired and need to go to bed earlier. I don’t want an answer to the question I’ve posed, and I actually don’t want to ask it. The real approach involves me revisiting my lesson plans and injecting a new strategy into what I did today, because I know I can do something better than either of the plans I enacted. And had I been getting some half-decent sleep, I might have had the energy to think of something better. Or maybe not, but at least I would have worn a smile as my lesson steered me into a telephone pole.

How many times have I written this little tidbit on this space? The extra things like graduate school and blog writing and creative web work are all extras. When ranked in order of importance, they place far behind the personal interactions I experience each day. When I can’t make those positive, I’m failing in a vital way.

A couple years ago I was part of a discussion with other students in my teaching certification program. The discussion leader asked us to state what we thought were some of our biggest responsibilities as teachers. I said then what I say now: I have a duty to be happy in my classroom. Not giddy, not fake, but genuinely cheerful and happy. That’s the kind of person who should be interacting with my students each day.

To ensure that I fulfill that duty, I have to make sacrifices – like occasionally going to bed without finishing my own homework. In the end, I’d rather have a lot of undone homework behind me than a group of students wondering what my problem is.


Click on the photos for attribution.