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.

Stuff like this here makes me want to hurt people.

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?

Apparently not.

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.

So, life is about increasing your chances of pneumonia and thereby decreasing your life-span? Brilliant.

‘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.



  1. Amanda Park

    Yep …. so you….but also makes a valid statement. Hmmmm… I wonder….does my positivity conceal the compliance that is actually my dull and inane life and that may create more emotional damage through the pretence of joy OR is it actually that positivity creates an atmosphere that enables and promotes dreams that just might be fulfilled? Just a thought…….

    • tstarkey1212

      Hi Amanda,

      I say whatever gets you through the day / night / week / year is fine by me. A pretence leading to something better? Sounds perfectly viable. I’m in no way trying to mock something that helps people do better in their job and themselves. I’d be a douche if I did that.

      The problem I have with positivity is when it’s used a coercion tool or when it’s seen as preferable to my own brand of err…’cynical pragmatism’ (yep, let’s call it that – better than grumpybastardism or some such) for no real reason but to make other people who practice it feel comfortable. Bugger that.

      I think it comes down to use. If you use it for yourself and find it useful and enriching then good on you. It’s a positive thing

      But if you start using it to silence opinions you find unpalatable or force a way of thinking onto others then that’s a problem.

      Thank you loads for commenting. Always good to have intelligent, informed responses to my absolute drivel.

    • tstarkey1212

      I’m not surprised. For me I think the thing is, if the job’s being done effectively, who cares if they’re a miserable twonk?

      Thanks for commenting Julia – really appreciate it.

    • tstarkey1212

      Thanks for reading Rachel. I had a look at the link and your enthusiasm really shines through.

      I don’t really see a lack of positivity being a problem. I find the fact some people deem it necessary to do the job problematic. In my own view (and I have to stress that it is merely my own personal view as I understand people find ‘positivity’ a useful and, well positive idea and I don’t wish to offend) the adoption of a positive attitude would be akin to self-delusion. I feel bad at the start of the year. It’s a perfectly understandable and natural feeling which in no way hinders my ability to teach. Yes, I would prefer to be insanely happy at the prospect of returning to work but for me personally that would be unrealistic. I don’t want to have to lie to myself to get through the day. I don’t need to. I’ll do the job that I love to a high standard no matter how I’m feeling.

      People trying to get me to feel a certain way about something or appear to feel a certain way about something without giving me a solid reason to – it’s not how my interior world works. I’m not capable of performing that kind of double-think, and I don’t think I would even if I could.

      Also I think people frame the opposite to ‘positivity’ as ‘negativity’ or even miserablism. I don’t see that being the case. There are, of course, people who will not show enthusiasm, needlessly berate seemingly good ideas, and take every opportunity to complain. But that’s not negativity, that’s just being an arse. The ‘negativity’ brush has wide strokes that seem to encompass things such as discourse, realism and experience. This I also find problematic.

      Anyway I’ve blathered on – thanks again for the comment and feel free to respond (if only to tell me to turn my frown upside down and stop being a miserable git).


  2. rachorr

    Getting rid of the negative doesn’t automatically make you positive.

    Thanks for the reply. You took a lot of time to respond and share your thoughts. Greatly appreciated. There would be many who wouldn’t bother to reply or comment.

    I am naturally positive and upbeat. Life has taught me that and I am one of the fortunate ones who love it all.

    I suppose the fact I am starting a second headship in a couple of weeks does make it very exciting.
    However, I can’t deny that I am nervous, anxious and a little scared. I have left a school after 11 years knowing it inside and out. Knowing every child’s name 400+. I have another 450+ names to learn, plus staff and governors, a new local authority to find out how it ticks, a church school and diocese to get to know etc…

    I am excited and quivering at the same time.

    Your kids will be so pleased to see you. They will have their own excitement and hopefully, positive outlook on working with you.

    Don’t stop being you.

    “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”

    Dr Seuss

    • Amanda Park

      Hi Rachel…..love your comments. I am also naturally positive and upbeat….or ‘Pollyanaish’ ….(one of my all time favourite films) which is a term I occasionally refer to when ‘being positive’ invites grumbles.
      Tom – ‘the adoption of a positive attitude would be akin to self-delusion’ – rather harsh and again direct reference to a person’s emotional state…..I can appreciate the sentence meaning, but ‘self-delusion’….I would rather be like that and make the most of what life has to offer than sitting at home (or in our office……Yes…I work with Tom!!!!) and turn a negative into a positive by saying “well a least …..”
      And to add, smiling makes one look prettier, friendlier and younger!!!!!!

      • tstarkey1212

        The ‘self-delusion’ comment was only in my own case. It’s a process I’d have to go through to fully embrace ‘positivity’ (that and the various surgical procedures I’d have to undergo to put a smile on my face).

        Is ‘positivity’ even the right word? ‘Being able to deal with things’ seems about right for me. But if that’s the case I don’t necessarily equate that trait with ‘positivity’. ‘Grit’ and ‘resilience’ are being bandied about more recently. They have connotations that, in fact, bad things do happen so hold fast and do the best. Those term (overused as they may be) at least ground themselves in a reality where exterior events do have effects.

        I like those terms. They’re much more macho. Like me.

  3. rachorr

    Love the wordplay between macho and timorous. Made me smile. Love resilience.

    Reminded me of the 5Rs :- resilient, reasoning, resourceful, responsible, reflective.


    A lot has mORR to do with attitude and expectation rather than just the feel good factor of optimism.

    Success comes in cans and not in can nots!

    Dealing with things – being able to by having the ‘can do’ attitude.

    • Amanda Park

      Ahhh…reflection….very rare in some. Myself, I am too reflective, but hopefully that serves to make me a better person and professional as opposed to the all too frequent ‘know-it-alls’ in this particular field (which by the way in my mind is harvesting seeds of hope and ambition and peppered with poppies, wild grasses, bumble bees and the sleepy field mouse, rather than mud and animal droppings!)

  4. Gaz

    Having suffered at the hands of someone in a powerful position with his excessive use of the “negative” ploy for many years that paragraph will now be posted on the wall where he used it reign. A huge smile on my face when I read that, it sums up what many fellow workers had to contend with for far too long.

    A good read Tom and a great insight into another profession that shows how we all tread a similar path in pursuit of the simple act of enjoying, or trying to enjoy, what we do.

    • tstarkey1212

      Thanks for that Gaz

      Glad it struck a chord. Like you, I’ve often seen the idea of positivity ‘weaponised’ as it were. Deeply unpleasant and hypocritical in that case and one of the main problems I have with it.

      Appreciate you taking the time to comment.


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