While working out at the Bally gym on Long Island, I Asked Frank, a fellow member, whether he remembered a special teacher from his school days. “Miss Maxon,” he replied. Frank was 15 when Miss Maxon taught her math lessons for the ages. Miss Maxon has surely passed away, because Frank describes her as having gray hair in 1932. His warm feeling for her today testifies to the powerful positive impact that a great teacher has on the life of her students. Miss Maxon isn't dead. She lives on in the hearts and minds of the many hundreds of Franks who still remember her name and see her face as a vision of all that is ideal from their childhood. She has gained a special immortality—a priceless reward that is potentially available to any motivated member of the teaching profession.
A teacher is in a position to acquire what few jobs in our society are capable of delivering—that special kind of immortality. A great teacher is never forgotten. Not at student reunions, not in the hallways or cafeteria of that lucky school where he taught, and most of all, not by the students who learned because a master teacher made learning a fulfilling experience. Such a teacher can have an effect on the lives of generations of human beings. A master teacher fosters a love of learning in the subject she teaches. That love may be transmitted to the students and on to the students' children. From generation to generation, the inspiration of one superior educator transcends the limits of time.
The great teacher is totally involved in the education process. She loves her work and loves interacting with the kids. The great teacher comes early, stays late, and energizes herself through her positive daily classroom experience. Her students are involved in the class; they look forward to it. They love their teacher, and when they look back on their school years, she will stand out as a breath of fresh air in their young lives. They will learn, and it will be fun. No toil is required, because the teacher makes it a labor of love. She is able to teach all the children, not just the motivated ones. The master teacher has few discipline problems. This human being is one of the finest that our society has to offer. A great teacher is a true hero.
The great teacher sees her job in a profoundly positive light. The struggling teacher, however, views teaching as more negative than positive. Have you ever known a teacher who, after retirement, refused to set foot in the school where he had spent so many years educating young minds? I remember a music teacher at his last faculty meeting in June, just before he retired. He told one and all that once he left the school building, we would never see him again. Sure enough, we never did.
Why are so many teachers so negative about their professional lives? What stops some teachers and principals from rising above the disappointments and frustrations of the job? Why can't more educators attain satisfaction and joy in a job well done? The answers are complex—but there are answers. The good news is that school professionals who are sufficiently motivated and willing to work hard can experience the superb destiny that awaits them.
The purpose of this book is to give educators ideas that can help them become superior teachers and principals, and, at the same time, happier in their chosen profession.
Because the present system of education doesn't work for many students, teachers, and principals, I have devised an alternate approach called the Totally Positive Approach. Educators who follow the Totally Positive Approach highlight the positives of teaching. They avoid or eliminate the negatives, or convert the negatives into positives. These lofty goals can be attained by using five techniques, which are explained in the chapters that follow:
- Meeting mutual needs
- Changing counterproductive feelings
- Ending behavior problems
- Helping underachievers
- Using active-learning strategies
Using these techniques, teachers will connect with their students and help them achieve. Out-of-control students will become self-disciplined, and underachievers will become self-motivated. As a natural outgrowth of their achievement, students will gain numerous benefits—they will develop a better attitude toward school, become more motivated, feel more competent, and feel better about themselves.
Teachers will benefit to an even greater degree. As a result of their students' achievement, teachers will grow professionally; and as a by-product of helping students, teachers will experience personal growth. Their students will love them, the parents will respectthem, their colleagues will admire them, and their principals will support them.
Teachers tend to underestimate their enormous power because they have felt helpless in dealing with some students' behavior and lack of achievement. Teachers' lack of success is not due to a lack of power to shape young lives but, rather, an unfortunate lack of skill in exercising that power. Teachers who use the Totally Positive Approach will be amazed at their high level of influence and persuasiveness. Ordinary teachers and principals can become great by using the Totally Positive Approach.
On the surface, this book appears to be about achievement. But achievement can be a vehicle for personal growth, for both teachers and students. Personal growth is the hallmark of a successful life. This book is really about hope and joy as well as mutual support and trust—exactly the ingredients needed to combat the uncertainty of day-to-day life.
Author's note: The specifics of some incidents and the names of the children mentioned have been altered to preserve confidentiality. Some of the educators mentioned may no longer work at the same schools with which they are identified in these pages.