Choosing To Be Happy As a Teacher Without Feeling Guilty About It
“When a teacher is happy and uplifted, it makes me feel good and makes me feel like I want to be in that class. When I have a teacher who is stressed and angry all the time, it makes me not want to be in their class, and it makes me even more mad.”
“If there’s a teacher that’s happy, it puts me in a good mood to learn, but when a teacher is in a bad mood, it puts me in a mood not to do my work and not want to be in their class.”
“Having a happy teacher, in my opinion, makes me feel at ease. On the other hand, when a teacher feels all of these negative emotions, I feel those emotions transmit throughout the whole classroom.”
“When a teacher is happy, it makes me feel like I could push myself when I have a challenge I'm facing. When the teacher is stressed and angry, it makes me feel like I don't want to learn.”
“I think when I have a happy teacher, it makes me want to learn more. When I have a stressed teacher, it makes me not want to learn because it looks like they don’t want to be here.”
“When my teacher is happy, it makes the class brighter. It makes it me feel better. When the teacher is upset, the class is kind of darker.”
“When my teacher is happy, it makes me feel happy, too, and I feel in a better mood. When the teacher is having a bad day, I feel bored, not interested.”
“When I see a teacher that is always happy, it makes me get in a better mood and happy to be in that class. When a teacher is always in a bad mood, I don’t want to be in that class.”
“When a teacher is happy, it makes me feel like the class is going to be easier and less stressful. When a teacher is stressed and constantly yelling, it just makes me not want to be in the class, and I kinda just want to go home.”
“When the teacher is irritated, it makes me mad, knowing that they’re taking their problems on me or on others.”
“When a teacher is happy and helpful, it makes me think that he/she really loves their job. They were born to do what they do, and it makes students more comfortable around them. A teacher with positive energy sends out more positive energy, and it makes students want to learn. If a teacher is crabby or mad constantly, it makes the students want to hate the teacher. They don't want to learn, and students get more annoyed.”
“Whenever a teacher is showing their anger, it makes us students get upset, too. We can tell whenever they are stressed, and it can get us stressed out as well. When a teacher is in a good mood, it will make things easier for us and make us want to be in a good mood.”
“When a teacher is happy, it makes it easier to learn and more fun to be in the class. When they are stressed, it makes it harder to learn and I don't like being in the class as much.”
“I hate when teachers are up and down all the time. They can have a day when they’re not feeling too good, but when their mood changes rapidly, that makes me stressed.”
“It makes me feel happier when my teacher is happy. When my teacher is stressed, angry, or irritated, it makes me feel the same way, or it makes me catch an attitude because they usually catch an attitude with me.”
These words--straight from the mouths of 9th graders who responded honestly to the question: When you have a teacher who is happy, how does it make you feel? When you have a teacher who is stressed, angry, irritated, how does it make you feel?”-- remind me a little of the song “Beautiful” by Carole King:
“You've got to get up every morning
With a smile in your face
And show the world all the love in your heart
Then people gonna treat you better
You're gonna find, yes you will
That you're beautiful as you feel”
It’s a hard-earned lesson, but the qualitative evidence from the students’ statements above point to Carole King’s words as truth. Our students do better on all levels when we’re happy. When we smile from within and show our students all the love in our hearts, they treat us better. They try harder. They learn more. And aren’t the students the ones we’re here for? Aren’t they the reason we’re in this job in the first place?
Being a great teacher means being a happy teacher.
And the recipe for happiness is clear: it comes from, among a few other things, taking care of ourselves and practicing choices that bring happiness. We owe it not only to ourselves, but to our students, to give ourselves permission to choose to be happy. It sounds easy, but some of us just aren’t programmed that way. In fact, to some of us, choosing to be a happy teacher somehow may still seem like something we should feel guilty about.
Let me tell you about a teacher who lived in a not so faraway land not so long ago. She carried a humongous red bag (about the size of a mini file cabinet) with her wherever she went. She spent hours in her classroom, worked into the afternoon and early evenings, took papers to grade home with her, then came in to work some more in her classroom most every weekend. She obsessively studied her content, compiling notebooks upon notebooks to glean as much knowledge as possible so her students would never doubt her expertise. She spent school breaks, weekends, and summers planning, planning, and planning some more. She said “yes” to everything because she was too scared to say no. She sponsored two or more clubs at a time, chaired fundraisers, attended committee meetings, countless student performances, and athletic events. She spent hundreds of dollars on school supplies from her own bank account, which gave her a temporary sense of control because she didn’t want to bother anyone for the funds. She planned painstakingly detailed field trips. She wanted every day in her classroom to be perfect: engaging, fun, meaningful, rigorous. And when it wasn’t, she felt like a failure.
She thought control was what would bring happiness. The more control she could have, the more that voice inside would shut up. It was a voice whispering, “You’re not enough. You’re not enough. You’re not enough.”
She frequently wore an anxious, stressed out grimace as a badge of honor. When she passed colleagues in the hall, she didn’t reach out with inquisitiveness about how those colleagues might be faring, and she didn’t give them a confident, warm, “Hey! How’s it going?” Instead, she would just look at them, sigh, raise her eyebrows and shake her head, as if to say, “I’m so overwhelmed and busy and simply could not be working any harder! My life is tough!”
A frown meant she wasn’t daring to appear to have a light load- because a light load would mean she wasn’t working hard enough or being as effective. Frowning, complaining, venting, sighing. Those were the signs of evidence that she was working hard. And if she was working hard enough, then maybe...just maybe...she could feel like she was enough-- for at least a little while.
The teacher I’m describing is the teacher I used to be on my worst days and the teacher I can lapse into becoming again if I don’t stay vigilant. I have to remember to give myself permission to be happy. Today, through practicing the Happy Teacher Revolution 12 Steps to the best of my ability, I’ve begun to realize what’s actually worth worrying about, and that it’s okay to exude the joy that I truly feel inside. It’s okay to walk with a little kick in my step and give others a warm smile and show the world all the love I feel in my heart. It doesn’t mean that I’m Pollyannish, or not working hard, or that don’t care. I don’t need to “fit in” by trying to prove how tough I’ve got it or how overwhelmed I am because I “just care so much.”
It bears repeating: being a great teacher means being a happy teacher.
And happiness isn’t the easy way out. It actually takes strength. It takes courage.
You deserve to fill your own cup up. Some people aren’t going to like it. They’re going to try to bring you down. That’s okay. You can choose to make like Maya Angelou and still rise.
It’s okay to own your choice to be happy. I have a family friend named Jim, and at every gathering, he says, “I’m just happy to be here and part of.” I think that’s what it comes down to when it comes to my happiness as a teacher: not what I’m doing, but who I’m being. Am I present? Am I recognizing how I can own my power to make instead of break a day? When I focus on being a teacher, which isn’t defined by my to-do list or the score on my evaluation, or the meetings I have to attend, I feel true joy. I can choose to “be here and part of” my school, community, and world, contributing to the greater good the best way I know how--through teaching. And that’s something to feel not guilty about, but happy.