Why so sad?

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I was reading a little article in AARP Magazine.  (It wasn’t my magazine, he said, trying to not appear old.  The magazine was delivered in error and the post office doesn’t ‘return to sender’ magazines, so thank you, subscriber Karen H., wherever you are.)  It was called “Cheer Up!”  I believe the intent was to show that it is not so bad being old because old people are happier than young people.  According to a Harris poll, 44% of people over 65 say they are happy compared to 37% of people 50 to 64 and only 26% of folks 18 to 24 years old.  What stunned me were how low the numbers are.

Most Americans would say they live in the greatest country on earth, which should make us happy.  As I read the article, my dishes were being washed automatically, my clothes were being washed automatically, I had taken a hot shower, I had eaten fresh fruits from around the world for breakfast kept fresh in a refrigerator, and the AC had kicked on to keep me from the 100 degree heat outside.  True, not everyone has all that stuff at home, but generally, we have pretty cushy home lives.  So the unhappiness must not come from home and country.

Maybe work is what bothers us.  In educational work there are some problems that come up.  One source is administration.  In 21 years of teaching, I had 7 different principals.  This was true of all of them: we only saw them when they were coming with a perceived problem.  The equation was administrator = bad.  A parent had called with a complaint about the grade on a test; a child in my class had allegedly mistreated another child at recess… you know the stuff.  I don’t think my administrators were the only ones to fit the equation.  My wife teaches 4th grade.  The first bell rings and the students line up outside the door.  They open the door and admit the kids.  When the second bell rings, the door is shut and, of course, locked as classes begin.  A parent called the principal to complain: her child had been locked out three times because she was late.  The principal has two options here: A) Tell the parent to get the child to school on time; B) Go to the 4th grade teachers and tell them they have a problem with the before school procedures.  The principal chose B.  My wife hadn’t seen the principal in her class even once during the first month of school, but here comes the principal with a perceived problem.

I made a suggestion to my last principal.  I asked her to book ONE HOUR A WEEK for her staff—no parent calls taken, no meetings scheduled.  One hour, say Wednesdays from 10:30 to 11:30 to go around the building, walk into classes, and say good things.  One hour.  She said, “That is a GREAT idea!” and never once tried it.  There will always be a “we vs. they” attitude between bosses and workers, but there are simple ways to lessen that.

Another source of dissatisfaction is us.  I quit going to the teacher lounge for lunch.  It was full of non-stop whining and complaining and stories of bad children.  “Oh my God, you should have seen what Josh did today…” and “Then Linda walked into the meeting and she was the worst.  She said…”  I can hear the response: Well don’t teachers need to vent?  No.  Not at lunch. Venting is not OK.  (Ask the people at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.)  We have very little time during the day to decompress, and to bombard each other with negativity is not healthy.  If all you hear are negative things it will affect you negatively and will only have us focus on the bad things in education.  There will always be upsetting things during a school day, but we can lessen the impact to them if we let them go and quit dwelling on them.  Enjoy your lunch, all 19 minutes of it.

Of course parents can be problematic.  And there are some students who are less than ideal.  We can’t fix that.  For some reason, humans seem to be wired to be more influenced by negatives than positives.  Twenty people can tell us “Nice job!” but we will obsess about the one person who said “That was terrible.”  One hundred wonderful things will happen during the day, but we stay up at night fretting about that one bad student interaction/parent call/administrator complaint.  It is a non-stop battle, but I encourage you to fight to keep perspective.  Don’t let the one negative outweigh the many, many positives that occur during your day.

According to AARP, only one out of three of us is happy?  Do something to make that one be you; don’t do things to contribute to the unhappiness of the other two.



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