Dear Kill-Joy, Take a Breather.

Glance around your classroom, or house, or job. If you work with groups of kids, chances are you’ll notice some things.

– You will notice one kid picking his nose. Hard. If he’s older, he may be trying to hide it. Under 10 years old and he is proudly showcasing his gold. Regardless, no nose picking is truly discreet, so now notice the other two kids looking with horror at him.

– Notice the one kid who looks as if she just downed a gallon of Fun Dip — tapping her pencil, shaking her head to music no one hears, getting up – sitting down – getting up – sitting down, narrating it all with odd sound effects.

– There’s also the kid who is in the middle of the grandest of illusions right now. Spot him by the depth of focus he has on the birds outside the window. You can try to interrupt him, but he’ll just turn your reality into some futuristic battle (and you’ll be on the losing end . . . unless he has a crush on you).

– In a few minutes one of your kids is going to have an emotional crisis. The cause is not really important right yet; you’ll find out more when he or she calms down in 30.7 seconds. Just know it’s the worst crisis any human has ever experienced ever in the history of all history.

– Then, of course, there is the kid waiting to cook up some condescension. He was born with an innate mastery of ways to get class off focus or pit you in a power struggle. You can call him, “Nemesis” if you like, or “Kurt” will do.

– If your clientele is young, you’ll have your Mucus Sponges, your Sleeve Eaters, and your “Everyone-needs-to-know-what-I’m-thinking-this-very-second” Blurters.

– If you work with the pubescing ones, you’ll see your “We need a writing utensil today too?!”s, your Hall Pass Addicts, and your “Everyone-needs-to-know-what-I’m-thinking-this-very-second” Blurters.

Your class is filled with these creatures. They are unpredictable. They are needy. They are extreme. They are like cats on “the nip” in a small space. Their constant eccentricities have been dripping away your patience bucket since the moment the honeymoon phase was over.  It’s April.

You chose the situation you are in when you decided to work with kids. Now you have two other choices:

1. Get annoyed by how stupid, antsy, smelly, and forgetful these kids are. They’ve been on this freakin’ planet for at least four years; they should have figured it out by now!

Or

2. Take a deep breath and allow yourself to laugh at how silly, energetic, fragrant, and developing these kids are. Their brains are still developing; you get to help them figure parts of life out.

We all get to make this choice every day. Every one of the 180 + “Here’s some data!” + extra required PD days. Yet, each additional month we spend in the trenches of child development leads us to forget that we can choose our outlook on our students.

Kids are either spawns of Satan’s annoying cousin, or they are hilarious. Your perspective decides.  And, in order to see beyond the demons, one must have a sense of humor for the chaos that is education.

We have to come to terms with one thing: If you have no sense of humor — or you lost your sense of humor — you have no business in the classroom. [Insert exasperated, curmudgeonly comments here].  If you cannot muster up a basic joy for the job of teaching these developing brains, do yourself and society a favor and find something else to do that does bring you joy.

Why? Because, people who cannot love the process of learning cannot keep the love of learning alive in children. If you treat teaching as a chore (and heads up: your nonverbals are screaming it to your students), your students see it as an even worse chore . . . with no pay or benefits.

Now this, of course, does not mean that one must take every situation lightly. “Devin, you’ve failed your third test in a row. Isn’t that hilarious?” Not cool. Nor does it mean we must abandon all rules and expectations or ignore holding high standards.  Believe it or not, it IS possible to hold students accountable without being a caffeine-deprived, fire-breathing dragon. And yes, there are real concerns and issues in education and society. But, Carter acting like a squirrel shouldn’t top the list.

We often let the little things — the insignificant things — consume way too much space in our minds. We let Laura’s eye rolling, and Logan’s question-we’ve-already-answered-twice, and that stupid fuzz on the side of notebook paper become the biggest issue of our day.  And, the double-whammy here: the king of our worries is the lord of our perception. In choosing to let little things stress us out, we start creating our own annoying little world.

For more on the link between expectation and perception see:

Shawn Achor’s “Tetris Effect”
An example of the “Invisible Gorilla”
The effect of gratitude journals

We need to be able to smile at these insignificant things as a part of the development process — or better yet, a part of being human. Focus on what truly matters. Giggle at the rest. You’re smart enough to know where to draw the lines and on which side of the lines to paint some color. And bring on the Crayola’s.

So here’s the challenge:

Your homefun is to find one moment this week in which you choose to find more joy and humor — in your students, in your own actions, and in the little things that normally annoy you. Post your funny experience(s) to the comment feed and share some joy. It’s April Sours and we could all use a laugh.

Let’s make a vow not to be fun-suckers and kill-joys and pedantic dictators. The moment we stop loving teaching is the moment our students stop loving learning with us. Choose to stay in love. Choose to have fun.

67 Comments Add yours

  1. Senor Mano says:

    As a totally new teacher (well… one year down) and kind of an older person for that (30-something), I worry that I have too much capacity for humor. I mean, it’s not being new that makes me laugh at everything; that’s my own fault. But I wonder if I don’t take my students’ outbursts and what I would call semi-inappropriate behavior (just things like talking over me during lessons, blurting out rap lyrics [often with “roll that expletive up and smoke it” in there], sleeping or doodling) too lightly. I easily laugh things off, maybe even as a defense mechanism, because I don’t want to be that kill-joy curmudgeon. Any feedback from yourself is appreciated, but I loved this post and am glad to not count myself among the joyless teachers of the world. As a side note: I am regularly showing “What Students Really Need to Hear,” and am screening it for my advisory class this morning. You said in seven minutes what it takes me close to 20 to explain, when you get the dreaded “what’s the point of high school” question. Thanks a million; you’ve got a new, regular reader.

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