By Kellie Jones
It was my first year teaching and I was expecting my first child. A parent of one of my students felt the calling to encourage me daily and provide a healthy snack for me and my baby. I would often find a piece of fresh fruit neatly placed in the center of my desk accompanied by a hand- written note of encouragement and appreciation. I found myself looking forward to the kind gesture and the words of inspiration for the day.
However, as time passed I sometimes took for granted the effort of the parent and would go several days in a row before I looked at the messages left by her or her child. On some occasions, the fruit would spoil before I enjoyed it.
Many of us have received an apple from a student as a gesture of appreciation during our career. Prior to mandatory, publicly funded education at the beginning of the 19th century, lower-income families would sometimes work out a barter arrangement with teachers in order for their children to receive an education. This arrangement often included a place for the teacher to live and foods such as potatoes, apples and other staples. In the early 1900s, this system was replaced by a cash salary, but today students still traditionally give apples to their teachers.
So what does an apple have to do with you and teaching? When we enter the teaching profession, we are excited about our decision to impact the world one little mind at a time. Our goal is to build knowledge by providing experiences and information in unique best practices that motivate, engage and provide results. We look forward to each day, plan with passion, and deliver content with energy and enthusiasm!
However, just like an apple turns brown after being cut, our excitement can gradually become discolored by the environment in which we find ourselves. Being a teacher is very demanding as we attempt to balance the many roles that are required of us in our profession and personal life.
Education is not only about educating the mind. In order to get to the mind, we must nurture the person. When students don’t share a common desire to learn the content that we present and they don’t respond like we expect, it often breeds discontentment and poor attitudes among both teachers and students. For most of us, this is not what we really signed up to do.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “Avoid the teachers’ lounge”? This statement is usually shared by the more experienced teachers. That’s often the case for those that have found themselves feeding off the negative clouds that sometimes form around the gathering place of colleagues.
We all have a tendency to vent to one another and top each other’s disheartening story for the day.
Within the first 10 years of teaching, I have found myself contributing to these conversations and growing frustrated as I dwell more and more on the negative aspects of my job. I became burdened by discipline issues, numerous meetings and time-consuming paperwork. I remember beginning my career with a passion and inner drive to be a successful teacher, never entertaining the thought that I would one day doubt the choice I made to become an educator. Was this what the next 27-30 years plus, would be like for me?
Then it occurred to me that my dissatisfaction had nothing really to do with my job or my students or my environment. It was me! It was my attitude!
Let’s compare attitudes to an apple. When we surround ourselves with a toxic, negative environment, just like the apple we begin to become discolored, shriveled, dull and somewhat rotten on the inside. We prevent ourselves from accomplishing what we were designed to accomplish.
According to author and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar, “We build our character from the bricks of habit we pile up day by day. All bad habits start slowly and gradually and before you know you have the habit, the habit has you. A positive attitude will have positive results because attitudes are contagious.”
When I heard this, it reminded me that it was up to ME to protect and polish my attitude.
It is important as teachers that we be mindful to protect ourselves from the elements of negativism. Your mind acts on what you feed it. You can change what you are and you can change where you are by changing what goes into your mind.
We should intentionally surround ourselves with positive people, feeding our minds with the good, the powerful and the positive. Your attitude is the major difference between success and failure – not only in the classroom, but also in life. Your attitude creates momentum. A “polished,” positive attitude can help you get back your passion for teaching and passion gives you energy. Students today need a positive, passionate and energetic influence in their learning and in their lives!
You have such great potential to be a positive influence for both your colleagues and your students. The messages that the parent and child left for me during my first year teaching were something to be treasured! They helped me to stay focused on finding the good in all situations and encouraged me to strive to accomplish goals with perseverance.
I want to encourage Kentucky teachers to search ways to continually grow, go after your passions, step out and take risks and encourage your coworkers and students to do the same. Keep your apple polished!
Kellie Jones teaches 4th-grade project-based science at Taylor County Intermediate School. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degree at Campbellsville University and also holds her Rank 1 certification. She is the 2017 Kentucky Elementary Teacher of the Year.