Assuming the best isn’t always the easiest!

by Maggie Rietz

I always enjoy starting off a new year or a new term because it gives me the opportunity to start fresh. Every teacher gets burned out at some point during the year, and we need those breaks to recharge (which is why we want to fight anyone who says anything about how much “time teachers get off”), and that burnout seems to come more quickly when the classes are more challenging. So when I have a challenging term like the last two terms, I’m frustrated, and try as I might to not let it show, that frustration does tend to show by the end of the term. This was definitely apparent to me when one of my students came in a couple days after the term to ask if this block was a better one than the last class because he could tell that I was “just over it.” He was right, of course. But I know I need to get better at not making that obvious to the students.

In Lemov’s book, he talks about Positive Framing, and it was clear to me that I had something to work on: “Guide students to do better work while motivating and inspiring them by using a positive tone to deliver constructive feedback.” It’s the positive tone part that gets me sometimes, especially when I feel like I have tried all term to deliver constructive feedback and they just haven’t listened to it, but maybe that just isn’t the case. In “Assume the Best” he writes, “We often assume intentionality behind a mistake. . . statements attribute ill intention to what could be the result of distraction, lack of practice, or genuine misunderstanding. . . our language choices give us the opportunity to show in those moments that we still see the best in people around us.” I think many times, teachers get frustrated because we are seeing the same kind of issues over and over again, even though we think that we have tried to give constructive feedback before, so we let that frustration show through our language. But reading this reminds me that maybe, sometimes when the motivation behind actions is unclear, we do need to take a step back and analyze how we ourselves are addressing the situation. If we can try to “assume the best” in students more often, maybe we will see more positive results. It’s something that I will have to work on for sure so it’s not obvious to the students when I am “just over it.”


2 thoughts on “Assuming the best isn’t always the easiest!

  1. stevelyle2

    I think every teacher can relate to your sense of frustration when students don’t participate or follow procedures, Maggie. Sometimes teachers have to address the same issues repeatedly throughout the day, such as cell phone use. It is not easy to “assume the best” about students. Positive framing requires a positive tone when giving feedback, according to Lemov (426). I like how the book gives examples of what teachers can say or do, and I have been trying to adapt some of these responses to my teaching this year.
    Which response do you think is the best example of positive framing?
    A. “Please put your cell phones away. I want your full attention.”
    B. “Don’t use your cell phone in class or I’ll call security.”
    C. “Just a minute, a few of you seem to have forgotten to put your cell phones away. Let’s put them out of sight and start again.”
    By the way, Answer C could be said with a sarcastic tone and eye roll. Lemov advises to avoid sarcasm, and I agree. I realized a while ago that even though sarcasm was wrapped in humor, it wounded people. I also realized that I had to stop my sarcasm cold turkey, not just in my classroom but everywhere. I still use humor, but not at anyone’s expense. So what I’m getting from your post, Maggie, is that my attitude truly has to be positive in order for my comments to sound positive.


  2. choateka

    I’m completely jealous of the “starting fresh” approach. That’s something I haven’t had in 7 years teaching academy. Well, except for the beginning of each year. Throughout the year, it’s the same ol’ same ol’. I can see that it eventually wears off, the freshness, but at least you feel it. I’m looking forward to having some of that back next year!



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