Saturday, September 7, 2013

Through the Darkness

This week we welcomed students back into the fold.  The positive energy throughout the building was absolutely electric.  I enjoyed taking pictures, giving hugs, and fist bumping so many of our students.  I had a parent thank me for always being so positive.  This comment made me reflect, I was grateful for her remark, but I can remember a darker time.

I was in my fifth year teaching and I had made the collective decision to complete my masters degree. I was interested in my masters because I wanted to have options.  I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, but I did want to control (to a degree) my destiny.  

I had signed up for a class with Dr. Hamilton.  I had no experience with Dr. Hamilton which translated to no expectations.  Before the class began I can honestly say that my year was tumultuous.  The funny thing was that I had a nice group of students, I felt very good when I was teaching, but that was the only time I felt good.

The negative feelings began in August.  I was sitting in the typical, back to school meetings and I was becoming more and more upset with the message being sent.  For more than an hour we were drilled about our test scores on the MEAP.  Our grade level scores were highlighted and projected onto a big screen.  Deep down I was enraged!  I knew that I was making a difference, I knew that I was a good teacher, yet the message being sent was, "You're not doing a good job, our scores are some of the lowest in the county."  After observing the projected images for some time we then began to discuss ways to improve scores and how we could test prep better.  (Yes, teaching to the standardized test!)  I then listened to others deflect any and all responsibility.  The room was full of chatter about why some feel helpless, our poor scores and how we can review materials to ensure better scores.

I'll admit, I lost all my positive energy.

I began the school year in a dark place.  Thank goodness for the kids!  Once school began I felt invigorated, I had a bounce in my step again.  Unfortunately this bounce didn't last.  Every time I left the classroom, grabbed my mail or interacted with staff members I felt this heavy, negative vibe.  The atmosphere felt toxic.  Morale was lower than I had ever seen.

So what did I do?  I went back to my happy place (my classroom), shut my door and poured my energy into my students.  This cycle lasted for months.  I really didn't love going to school, I enjoyed my kids, but the "other" stuff was weighing heavy on me.  I felt myself disliking the "BEAST"...or as some say, "The System".  

There were other issues going on as well.  At the time we rotated students for science.  I had a parent that was very upset with me because I was not assigning homework.  She told me that I just play games and that I'm not teaching anything.  These words hurt.  This added to my dislike of school.  I was entering a darker place.  I'll never forget a conversation with a mentor teacher right outside my classroom door.  I asked her a question, I said, "When you are on a sinking ship do you help bail water or save yourself?"  She smirked at me.  She knew exactly what I meant, but she didn't answer.  She looked at me and said, "Love your students, that is what is truly important."  

What happened next was remarkable.  I began taking a grad class with Dr. Hamilton.  In this class I had an old friend @jmherrington5 .  Between the wonderful class discussions and Jason's humor I was snapping out of the darkness.  I vividly remember one evening; the class was only a few weeks old and we were discussing parent communication and dealing with disgruntled parents.  I openly shared my story with the class about a current parent's anger towards me because I didn't assign homework.  As class was wrapping up Dr. Hamilton asked to speak with me.  We sat in the room for 40+ minutes.  He began the conversation with several compliments, and then he said, "You look frustrated and you sound frustrated with teaching."  In his empathetic way he called me out.  He was correct and once more I was embarrassed he could see and hear my frustration.  I decided to come clean.  Right there sitting with Dr. Hamilton I dumped all my unhappiness, my frustration and my irritation out.  I told Dr. Hamilton that I wasn't sure I could do this, I told him I was losing my love of teaching.

Dr. Hamilton listened attentively and then he shared a couple stories about himself.  We then talked about my success stories, the students I made a difference with and the parents that spoke so highly of me. Dr. Hamilton was so positive.  His attitude uplifted me.  I left that evening feeling as though the negative weight was off my shoulders.  I decided at that moment I was going to be a positive light in people's lives.  For the last nine years I have tried to remember Dr. Hamilton's message, and I've tried to give to others what he gave to me.  I want to help people get through the tough moments, and I want to have the positive attitude people choose to be around.  I now know that attitude is everything.  We can't control what circumstances or events will fall in our lap, but we can control how we react and what our attitude is.

I'll be forever grateful to Dr. Hamilton for helping me see the positive light through the darkness.

This week's big question:  When you're in a rut, how do you get out of it?  Are you a positive influence to others?


Monday, Sept. 9th:  No Library (Deb is off on Monday & Tuesday)
Tuesday, Sept. 10th:  PTO Meeting at 7pm (Looking for teachers willing/wanting to attend)
Wednesday, Sept. 11th:  Grades K-2 Assembly 8:45-9:15
Wednesday, Sept. 11th:  Early Release Begins
Wednesday, Sept. 11th:  2:40 brief meeting with Walmart representative
Wednesday, Sept. 11th:  3:45 Twitter tutorial with Bean & Parma teachers at Bean (All staff are welcome to attend, I will be leading)
Thursday, Sept. 12th:  Happy BDay to Kristy Soper
Friday, Sept. 13th:  Happy BDay to Colleen White

Articles Worth Reading:

10 Ways Literacy Can Promote A Deeper Understanding Of Math +TeachThought @TeachThought

10 Important Things For Students To Be Good Digital Citizens shared by +William Powers @MrPowersCMS

8 Good Morning Questions That Create Happiness +Marc Chernoff @marcandangel

Bell Ringer Exercises   shared by +Jay Posick @posickj

10 Talks From Inspiring Teachers  shared by +Eric Sheninger @NMHS_Principal

5 Phrases To Say To Kids Everyday  by +Jarred Fuhrman @JFuhrman3932

An App to assess Reading Fluency by +Erin Klein @KleinErin

Teaching Fish To Climb Trees  by @ajjuliani

Leadership Should Be Shared by +Tony Sinanis @Cantiague_Lead

Leadership is Action, not position by +Amber Teamann @8Amber8

What Really Motivates Me...  by +Daisy Duerr @DaisyDyerDuerr

The Dean's Corner  by +Colin Wikan @colinwikan

Hate Chalk  by +Arin Kress @KressClass

Augmented Reality to Inspire Creative Writing  by +Drew Minock @TechMinock

You Think You Have Time  by +Amber Teamann @8Amber8

Videos Worth Watching:

Make a Wish with Roger Federer (7 min)

Twitter to Spread Kindness! (2 min)

Katy Perry's hit song "ROAR"! Love the words.  (5 min)


  1. Ben,

    A great reminder of how important it is to surround yourself with positive people. All of us at times need a good pep talk to remind us of how important a positive mindset is in order to make the greatest impact. I often try to remind people to not allow others to take away your excellence. Keep up the great work my friend! -jimmy

  2. Bem
    Thank you for sharing this post with us and specifically for highlighting a time in your career where you were in a rut. We have all been there and it is difficult to get out of but so incredibly important because our kids need us out of the rut! This piece was uplifting and gave me hope. I always walk away from reading your posts smiling, feeling better and being inspired. THANK YOU my friend! So glad youre in my PLN!

  3. Hi Ben,

    Great post! I'll admit... my classroom is my happy spot, too! Perhaps that is why I spend the time preparing it the way I do.

    Thank you so much for sharing your reflections with all of us.


    Erin Klein