As the return to the classroom begins to loom like a psychotic and bloodthirsty colossus on the horizon I really only have two fears about going back to the grindstone:
1. I’ll encounter someone who is genuinely happy to be there and wants to pass on their limitless enthusiasm by way of smiling, being perky and helpful and sharing fantastic new ideas which will help me ‘be the best I can be’.
2. I won’t be able to dispose of their body without being caught.
I’m kidding, of course.
(I never worry about No.2. I’ve had far too much practice.)
I do not have a naturally sunny disposition at the best of times. Hard to believe, I know, but it is the truth. No, no, wipe that look of disbelief off your faces right now, there’s no point arguing…oh. You’re not. Thanks for that.
Therefore it often takes me a little while to get back into the swing of things. I like to have a certain period of mourning for what I have lost. Time with my family, an absence of responsibility, the luxury of hours in the day that I can fill with my own pointless and entirely frivolous pursuits. I feel their absence and I grieve for them. Part of this grieving process involves being a grumpy bastard for approximately two weeks from the beginning of term until those wonderful things fade like a drop of water on hot desert sands and are fully replaced by the practicalities of being a halfway decent teacher.
Entirely natural right?
It first became obvious to others that my lack of enthusiasm at the beginning of term may be one of the first signs of the apocalypse when, at a former school, I was called into a meeting with a HOD:
‘Is everything alright Tom?’ She asked.
‘Fine,’ Said I.
‘It’s just you seem unhappy.’
‘I am unhappy, I’m back at work.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I mean I’m back at work, when prior to being at work I was having a nice time on holiday.’
‘Hmm…I hope you’re not taking that negative attitude with you into the classroom.’
‘A what attitude?’
‘Negative. We have to keep positive and model that positivity for the kids.’
‘Because it helps them to be happy and more productive.’
‘Lying to themselves about how they are feeling helps make them more productive?’
‘Now c’mon Tom. There’s that negativity again.’
This Kafkaesque conversation was the start of my awareness of the concepts of ‘positivity’ and ‘negativity’ in schools. I’ve never really got on with it. One of the reasons is that it doesn’t really mean what people want you to believe it means. Underlying the suggested smiles and can-do attitude that the idea of ‘positivity’ supposedly promotes is something a lot less wholesome.
‘Being positive’ is often used as a synonym for ‘being compliant’. It’s a fantastic way to kill critical thought and dampen any kind of opposing views, no matter how sensible they are. Don’t like what someone is saying or want to silence the naysayers? Accuse them of being ‘negative’. BOOM! Problem solved. Especially if you’re in a position of power.
The idea of ‘positivity’ is something that says ‘You shouldn’t think like this. If you do then everything bad that befalls you, including the things that are external that you have absolutely no power over are your fault’. That’s not a message we should accept. And it’s certainly not a message we should pass on to those we teach. They’ve got enough on their plate already.
So, looking back, I was wrong. It’s not the happy, enthusiastic, perky cheerleaders that are the problem. They may be annoying and exhausting and ghastly and abhorrent and hard to dispose of, but at least they’re genuine.
Nothing wrong with that.
See? I can do positive.
Now get the hell out.