Usually I think of the words, “Me first!” in connection with students jumping in line ahead of others, eager to get the biggest and best of whatever is happening at the moment. I equate it with selfishness and pride.
But those same words fit perfectly with another line of thought. When I step into my teacher role, I hear a clear call to humbly exemplify the attitudes I want to see in the classroom. Intentionally or not, I set the atmosphere and my attitudes are key to that.
How are attitudes formed? Caroline Leaf defines an attitude as a mindset. It is the result of repeatedly setting my mind to thinking specific thoughts, positive or toxic. I create and feed an attitude by repeating (either negative or positive) stories by recounting them to myself, and simply thinking about them. Whatever I think about most grows. And, given time, my thoughts will always form attitudes. I get to choose my attitude.
If I feel that a certain student is always pushing the line, questioning my authority, and making my life more stressful in general, it is easy to assume a stance of bracing myself against his assumed attempts to sabotage my position. Such an attitude of defensiveness will invariably affect my daily responses toward him. My attitude becomes the grid through which I interpret that student’s actions and my voice quickly becomes sharp when I perceive that he is, yet again, questioning my decision. My attitude matters.
When a student grumbles because the recess game I chose is not his favorite, I can, with a gentle twinkle in my eye, quietly reply, “You don’t have to play, you are welcome to sit on the sidelines and watch.” Or I can give him a hard look, protect my role as his authority, and in a tight voice challenge him using those very same words, but this time they threaten. My demeanor and tone reveal my attitude because my heart leaks out. Which way will it come out? Do I decide that in the moment or does my response hinge on previous thoughts I have willingly hosted? Where do my words and tone of voice come from? Scripture says that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. My attitude matters.
I can only teach what I live myself. If I want my students to relate respectfully, I must show them the way. There are multiple opportunities each day to model a respectful attitude. If I want my students to love learning or to enjoy beauty around them, I must nurture those same attitudes in my heart. Then when a student suddenly spots a hummingbird just outside the classroom window, I will gladly interrupt the flow of the classroom in order to drink in the moment. If I want my students to love God, I can teach that only as the overflow of my life. It is not tacked on or carefully planned into the schedule. I can tell them stories from my life—stories of joy, stories of failure and repentance, stories of heeding His voice. The power of story is alive and the stories I tell reveal my loves. How I teach depends on my attitude. My attitude matters.
Andrew Kern writes, “The most important thing every teacher should understand is that teaching is the art of being imitated. If you want a student to perceive a truth, you have to embody it. That’s what teaching is. When you teach, whether you intend it or not, you are saying to your students, ‘imitate me.’ Make yourself worthy of imitation.” In Luke 6:40 Jesus made the same point using different words: “Everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.”
Yes, my attitude matters.
CONTRIBUTOR: Betty Yoder