How often do you think you give students positive affirmations as they enter the class?
How many times per week do you hear your teachers say something positive as you enter the class? Examples: Welcome. It’s great to see you, fist bump, good morning scholars, etc.
These questions pop up as the school year trudges on, and I can’t help but ask, how much negativity can a human teacher handle and still “stay positive”?
According to Newell and Simon’s unified theories of cognition, “one of the strongest findings has been that the mind, while incredibly flexible, appears to have specific limitations in how it can process information, relying on relatively specialized systems in the brain for functions.”
Sometimes I feel that people forget that teachers are learners too. Our brains, our emotions, our hands that extend grace and a constant pour of patience–have limitations too. We need time and space to process, reflect, and rejuvenate also. Lately, I’ve been trying to chunk my process of being intentionally positive in the classroom, but my mind and heart have limitations.
Remember the 4 to 1 ratio! They say. This sounds like code for a positivity machine.
Be more positive, they say. Pressure positivity.
The 4 to 1 ratio is where the teacher needs to address four positives, or give out praises, to students before addressing any corrective action–like a positivity sandwich. Squish the corrective statements in between the positives, so your class is not overwhelmingly just focusing on correcting “bad” behavior. So, I have been trying to be more conscious of noticing students staying on task, a student participating, a student improving…but many times corrective statements overshadow everything, where an ooze of negative energy drips from one class, and spills into the next. My brain gets pulled in all sorts of directions all the time in the classroom. My positive to corrective ratio looks more like 7 to 20 on average, over the span of my different periods, which can look something like this:
Praise. I like how Tommy is on the Google Slide.
Praise. I appreciate Michelle for listening and staring up front.
Praise. Thank you John for closing your laptop.
Praise. I see Mary working on her IXL.
Praise. Corrective. Moises, stop throwing the paper airplanes.
Praise. Corrective. Who’s making the gaming sound? Didn’t I say not to spray Axe in the room?!
Corrective. Corrective. Corrective. Corrective. Corrective. Corrective. Corrective. Corrective. Corrective.
I Pause, Reflect, Calm down.
Erase my mind. Lord, please release my negativity.
Thank you Tito. Thank you Kevin. Thank you Brenda.
Thank you for listening.
There is an art to “being positive” as a middle school teacher. I shower my classes with praises in the beginning, with little sprinkles of correctives in between. However, with my toughest class, I hail down correctives half way into class, before I remember to tell myself to pause and look for the positives once more. Even with my best class, I sometimes take for granted how most students are on task most of the time, and forget to praise them, after being drained by the rough class before it. I’m not sure if this journey to the 4 positive to 1 corrective ratio is clear to everyone in educational field, to those working outside the classroom. How much energy it can take. I get anxious when visitors drop by—I feel a burning sensation that every word, every move is watched. And judged. Ms. stay positive, no matter what.
On a good day, when calmness surrounds me, a fog clears, I am able to give more shoutouts. I have a post it reminder that reads “4 + 1”, but it constantly gets drowned in my myriad of other post-it reminders. As a back-up and supplement, I have my GoGuardian tab open to remind me to call out students who are on the right assignment, the right window on their Chromebooks. Names of sneaky students who try to get around GoGuardian are left in the dust.
In between the hard moments, I remind myself, that for the first time, I hear more than one student say, class went by fast today! And then time stops again.
So, what’s the secret to staying positive when you are feeling like s*** inside?
What’s the secret to managing classroom discipline as naturally as possible, juggling from being the caring, understanding, human teacher to being a machine that gives out appropriate consequences in a consistent pattern?
When ten minutes, turns into fifteen, into twenty, my soul is sucked dry, and I start crawling back under the sheets of spiritual renewal.
Now, how do I give up my pessimism for Lent this year?
I guess the first step to change is self-awareness.
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