Every class, I learned in my 30 years of teaching, has a personality. And, like many teachers, I learned to flex with these group temperaments. According to need, I could turn energy up or down. I could slow my pace one period and snap to the next. I could teach with charm or with might, humor or concern. I could adjust my style to match each class. And mostly this worked.
But I’ve also clashed with classes. I wanted to like them, but I fought what felt like a fundamental incompatibility. My instinct was to distance myself, to go through the motions and not invest emotionally. But this was a luxury, I couldn’t afford. Because when I withdrew, students didn’t learn.
Over the decades, I found a few ways to change my relationship with classes I didn’t like, to look forward to them, instead of dreading them. Here’s what worked:
- I quit trying to change my feelings. This gave me energy to change my actions. I acted as if I liked the classes. And gradually I did.
- I watched my self-talk. The more I complained to myself about a class, the more I found that annoyed me. And the more I affirmed, the more I found to like.
- I asked my students questions. The more I discovered about their sufferings and hopes and dilemmas, the more empathy I felt for them.
- I invested. Each time I gave them a gift—like a story about the time I botched a science fair project—I liked them a little more, the generosity of my spirit increased.
- I rewarded myself. After my bad seventh-period class one year, I always opened the top drawer of my desk for a packet of almonds. This almost made me look forward to seventh period.
Clashing, I’ve found, requires energy I’d rather spend on teaching.