I’m one of the managing teachers in my company and part of my job involves observing, monitoring and mentoring new teachers. This means, among other things, that I have to write reports about all the teachers I work with as I travel around Europe. I always try to make my reports as positive and constructive as possible and usually that is easy because most of the teachers I work with are nice people who are good at their job. This week however I have been preparing to write a very bad report about a teacher I have been working with recently, a report which will mean that this teacher loses her job with the company. The reason is that I have had to substitute her because her students disliked her intensely and were refusing to complete or pay for the course unless she was replaced. In addition she doesn’t get on with the rest of the teaching team who are making excuses to avoid her whenever possible.
She is not an easy person to like. She lives in her own rather sad world and refuses to let other people’s worlds enter into hers. She is generally sour and argumentative. She is locked in her own thoughts and seems to have no instinct at all for what other people are thinking or feeling. She wants other people to accept her as she is, but is very uncompromising when it comes to accepting other people’s funny little ways. She is unhappy whenever anything more than the basics are asked of her and complains bitterly if asked to do anything extra. She is also paranoid, neurotic and full of strange phobias such as a fear of breathing chalk dust! These are not good qualities in a teacher. Honestly, I really have no idea how she bluffed her way through the job interview.
So on the surface (and beneath it) I think I would be quite justified in writing a report that will get her fired from the company. This evening however I decided to take her out for an informal chat over a few drinks and try and understand her better while gently but firmly telling her she has to change her ways (for her own sake as well as for the sake of keeping her job). What I discovered was a very sad, hurting and desperate person. My problem is that that doesn’t change or excuse her way of being.
She has been through some very difficult episodes in her life including an abusive father and the recent death of a friend. She has had health problems and still has substantial financial problems. I think she was happy to have somebody listen to her problems but I realised that is the only thing she feels comfortable talking about and she wears her problems like an impregnable cloak. She is not open to discussing solutions. Every time I offered a practical solution to some of her more immediate problems she came up with a whole list of reasons why in her special case that would not work. At one point I said that her negativity is palpable and it is unattractive and off-putting to other people. “Yes, but what can I do?” She replied, “My life really is that bad” (Sigh). I tried to point out that other people (including me) have had problems but they get over them. Her response was that either other people’s problems were really not as bad as hers, or else she was just weak, which would of course be cause and reason for her to be more negative and miserable. I said that sometimes you have to pretend to be cheerful and positive until it becomes part of your nature; at which point she just looked at me with an expression that meant either that I was seeing the world through rose coloured glasses or else I just didn’t understand the depth of her problems. By the end of the conversation I was quite angry and frustrated.
I have been there. I have been trapped in the well of negativity; and whatever strength I have now comes largely from knowing that I pulled myself out of a hard place. Most people think I am a very positive person and I think so too. I hope I will become like the people I most admire and am most attracted to; a person who exudes charm and positivity. But the secret of all those people and myself is that we have all been through shit and come out the other side. As a rule the most positive and inspirational people you are likely to meet are people who have survived the deepest hurt and pain.
So I am going to be cruel to be kind. I will give her a bad report because that is what she deserves. Hiding reality won’t help her. She has to face the place where she is at, and losing her job is of course going to make things seem worse. But, perhaps it will be the catalyst for change.
But in case she is looking in, and in case anybody else is feeling trapped in the well of negativity; here is some advice that is based on personal experience.
Let go of the past. Let go of the troubles you are carrying around with you. I know it is hard but it is not impossible.Other people manage it. Don’t let yourself be defined by your miseries and your problems. The chances are that by now your worries have become a crutch and a mask and you fear being naked without them. YOU are not your problems, there is much more to you than that.
Think about the people you admire, respect and love. What is it about them that is attractive? Try to emulate their best qualities.
Solve your problems, starting with the smallest and easiest. Don’t expect miracles but do expect progress.
Set realistic goals and objectives for yourself. Have a plan, don’t just wonder aimlessly round in circles.
List your finer qualities and deliberately emphasise them when in the company of others. Also think about what you liked most about yourself before the problems took over. That person is still in you somewhere, bring that person back to life.
Think about and emphasise your beliefs and opinions (religious, spiritual, philosophical, political, artistic, fashion sense, whatever…) because these things come from your core. Don’t allow outside events and all the things that life throws at you define or shape you
Praise and celebrate your own successes, no matter how small. Acknowledge your failures, but let go of them and forgive yourself.
Smile, even when you don’t feel like smiling. Pretend to be happy even when you are not. It will create positive feedback and you will find that after a while you really do feel happy. And the more happy and positive you appear to be, the more people will be attracted to you, and the more confident you will feel. This is not happy-clappy magic or hocus pocus; this is a scientifically understood aspect of human psychology.
If you feel your life is boring, make up some stories. Don’t make a habit of lying but do be the author of your own biography. Create and be the person you want others to see you as. You don’t need anybody’s permission to be who you want to be.
Well I could go on but I think that is enough for now.
If my unhappy teacher or anybody else is reading this and thinking “Oh but I couldn’t do that because…” then you are still not getting the point. And it is a point you need to get so read it again or ask me something specific.