First Quarter Woes and Ways Out
Summer vacation was a blessing, a respite from the hours of instruction and following exhaustion, and every September was a fresh start. My expectations for the new year depended on the one before. If I had a good previous year with good students, then hopefully I’ll be lucky again. If I didn’t, then I was just thankful the previous year was over and there was the possibility of something better.
So what’s a bad year? Well, I could say there are no bad years since teaching is a rewarding profession that makes a difference in people’s lives, but that would be a lie. Some years were better than others and a bad year was one where the exhaustion outweighed the reward. A bad year was one where I was enforcing rules more than inspiring students, when I paid more attention to the things they did wrong than the things they did right. In that mindset, any year could have been a bad year.
One late October, after the enthusiasm of the new year wore off, I found myself scolding students rather than being patient. It was the second month in and I was done, frustrated that they weren’t behaving as I expected and annoyed it wasn’t easy like in previous years. The next day I realized the ugly truth of berating students: it was cathartic but ultimately ineffective, they started to tune me out. I then realized the the ugly truth of summer vacation: it was a reset button. Some students had to get used to the expectations of proper behavior again. I thought I’d never say it, but I didn’t like summer vacation anymore. Well, just not as much.
It wasn’t fun being angry and I had 8 months left, I had to find a better way. I was teaching psychology at the time and my research led me to Negativity Bias and Decision Fatigue. The misbehaving students had a greater effect on my mood than did the other students because of the brain’s negativity bias, the tendency for things of a negative nature to have more of an impact. I was also tired by the end of the day and suffered from decision fatigue. The long day of decision making had worsened the quality of my decisions hence the scolding. To combat the negativity bias, I began smiling and laughing more to stay positive. In order to manage the decision fatigue, I ate often to maintain my stamina and decreased the the number of decisions I made throughout the day. For example, I began using generic statements like “let’s make a better choice” to redirect students rather than choosing specific words for each situation. The willpower and mental energy I saved every day, I put towards reinforcing my new habits of mind. By the end of the year, any year could have been a good year.