Be Nice

 I’m a ridiculously thoughtful person.

No, really.  I think a lot.  I occasionally also think nice things.  In between the “Wait…did you really just say that out loud?” and the “Oh my word, you are insane!” thoughts, I am completely capable of being a sweetheart.  A darling.  A lovely pleasure to be around.
Depending, of course, on your definition of “sweetheart.”
I’ll admit it.  Strong emotion makes me excessively uncomfortable.  I will be the first person to crack a joke when someone bursts into tears (out of a desire to lighten the mood, not out of insensitivity), I show disdain for anything that can even be remotely labeled as cheesy, I avoid hearts, roses, the color pink and I would prefer you didn’t touch me unless it’s to give me a high-five or challenge me to arm wrestle.  If you ever hear me utter the words “Oh, sweetie pie, how are you doing today, honey?” you should immediately have me admitted to the hospital, because I’m probably suffering from brain cancer.
But I am nice.
In my own special way.
You can’t survive the education world if you’re a pessimist.  Which is not to say there aren’t pessimists in the education world.  There are.  And they suck.  Because they’re miserable and, out of their own miserable-ness they feel the obligation to make everyone else around them miserable.  Party poopers.
( Random fact of the day:  did you know that the word for party pooper in Spanish is aguafiestas?  Agua = water, fiesta = party.  Thus the party pooper is the one who waters down the party.  As fascinatingly practical of a description as this is, I much prefer the fecal version of the English speakers.  C’mon.  Admit it.  The visual of someone actually pooping on  a party does much more to get the meaning across.)
Since we’ve already discussed the Singing Pigs Laws of Teaching in a couple of previous posts,  let’s get some of the SPLOT basics straight:
1.  Education involves an obscenely high number of people and personalities.
2.  Many of said people and personalities will annoy you.
3.  Education involves obscenely mind-numbing bureaucracy run by people who have no idea what they’re doing.
4.  Much of said bureaucracy will annoy you.
So get over it already.  And learn to make the best of it.  Or else you’re screwed.
My father, (when he wasn’t reminding me that “donkeys don’t got to school because nobody likes a smartass”) was a huge fan of the “you catch more bees with honey” adage.  Perhaps my father’s affection for these two particular expressions tells you a bit about my teenage years.  Or perhaps he was just right.  On one count, anyhow.  As for the other, I have discovered, thankfully, that there is a rather large number of people with a soft spot toward smartasses.  I like to call these people “friends.”
Regardless, if you’re going to survive, you’re going to have to see the bright side of things.  And if you’re going to see the bright side of things, you’re going to have to be nice.  If you’re nice, you will have a better day.  Semester.  Year.  I promise.  And the coolest thing about the Being Nice category of  4 Ways to Make Second Semester Better That Don’t Involve Boring Crap Like Reviewing Standards and Benchmarks or Analyzing Data is that you should see almost instant results.
Now, really.  How often does that happen in teaching?  
And here’s the other cool thing about Being Nice:
It’s not just about the kids, this time.  
Being Nice Lesson 1:  Write a nice email home.
I spend a shitton of time writing emails home.  Most go something like this:
Dear Parent,
My name is Teach, and I’m your student’s Spanish teacher.  Blah blah blah reasons I’m glad your child is in my class blah blah student’s strong points  blah buuuut blah blah blah your child is failing/has cheated/punched another kid/otherwise misbehaved blah blah blah steps taken blah expect this won’t happen again blah blah I have faith in your student.
Thank you for your support,
But in general, I just let the good kids slide by unnoticed.  After all, they’re not the ones pantsing each other in the hallways or drawing hairy genitalia on desks.  Or starting fights.  Or cursing at teachers.  Or  …
But I complain because I only get emails from the crazy parents.  Never the nice ones…so maybe the only parents who ever hear from me are the parents of the…  Damn you, hypocrisy!  All right.  Fine.  I can sit my booty down and write one out-of-the-blue nice teacher email each month to parents of a student who deserves it.
Funny thing.  Being nice usually provokes being nice in return.  Almost every nice parent email I have sent home has provoked an equally nice thank-you note.  These people have put a lot of blood, sweat and groundings into raising their children.  They do, occasionally, like to hear that the midnight feedings and trips to the ER were worth it.
But take it one step further.  
What if you sent a nice email home to the parent of a royal pain-in-the-butt?
I once had a mother start out parent-teacher conferences without an introduction.
“Hi!” I greeted the well-dressed woman brightly.
“I know my kid’s an ass,” she sat down exasperatedly, “so why don’t you just lay it on me.”  Well, ma’am… that would first require knowing who your son is.  Oh…right…
Yep.  Her son could be an ass.  But generally, he was fine for me.  So I let both her (and him) know it.  I saw her five months later at the next round of conferences.  She cried. Her son had asked her for the first time in his life if he could buy a teacher a gift card for Christmas.  
And I got free coffee out of the deal.
Bees with honey.  Teachers with coffee.  Nice with nice.
Being Nice Lesson 2:  Write a Thank You Note To A Colleague
Who saves your ass?
Some of us work in more functional schools than others.  And even in the generally functional schools, there’s usually someone who irritates the tar out of you.  (Why, hello snooty AP teacher who organizes his seating chart by ability level then refuses to speak to the “lower” half of the room!  You are a jackass!)  But on the flip side of that, even in the most dysfunctional schools, I’d bet there is someone who makes you think, “Gee, it’s so pleasant not to feel the urge to cringe when I see you coming!”
Do the both of you a favor.  Write that person an honest-to-god note.  No just shouting “ohmigodthankyousomuch!” as you rush back into your room with the copies they made you because you forgot that you hadn’t prepared the test you were giving today.  Sit.  Write. For real.
And don’t forget your administrators.  They’re too easy to gripe about because they’re the bosses.  But really – they get to deal with angry parents, students, teachers and the school board/superintendent/budget cuts.  They do hiring, firing, data, standardized tests and improvement plans.  In their free time, they’re supposed to cultivate relationships with teachers, students and parents.  And the school board/superintendent….and here we go again.  They may not be perfect, but really…do you want that job?
F–k no, you don’t.
So when they do something right, do you let them know you appreciate it?  Or just kind of ignore the good and bitch about the bad?
No complaining about your colleagues being buttheads to you if you’re a butthead to them.  Or even just a passive non-entity.
And what if you sent a colleague you can’t stand a thank-you note?
It could blow your mind.
Being Nice Lesson 3:  Yeah.  The kids.  No shit, Sherlock.
Since in the end it’s the kids we’re there for, we’ll end with them.  The theme, however, is the same.  
Step 1:
1.  Take a handful of kids you really struggle with.
2.  Find something good in all of them.
3.  Write them a nice note about their good parts.
4.  Observe drastic change.
Now, with “drastic change” don’t go all crazy on me.  Your misbehaving, foul-mouthed, unengaged  sleeper in the back row is not suddenly going to start turning in his homework with little hearts dotting the i’s.  But here is what I will guarantee you, 100%.  One day after getting that note, something, some little thing will change.  And if you notice that change and give him a nod for it, it will continue.  And if you continue believing in that kid, he’ll continue growing.
That’s drastic.
And kind of makes your heart all warm and fuzzy.
Which, if you’re me, makes you kind of uncomfortable and itchy.  Stupid sugary bright side of education.  Gooey rainbows and unicorns.  Argh!  Sincere emotion!  Barf!
Oooh…what’s this?  A thank you note in my inbox?
Dear Teach,
You smell like poo.
Why, it’s perfect…Thank god for colleagues who totally make my day.
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4 Responses to Be Nice

  1. Sheree says:

    I love this. I'm a teacher. Sometimes I smell like poo. But I always, always find something good in my students. It is the only thing that gets me to come back to school each day. Your writing is delightful….thank you. (Does this count as a thank you note?)

  2. Teach says:

    Absolutely! Totally made my day! I completely entertain myself writing, but really hope I can make others laugh…and make education better in my own wacky way. Thanks so much for reading!

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