Larry Efird: The variables of school culture & climate
Some days are filled with irony. Today was one of those days. It was one of those days when you can feel as if you are meeting yourself coming and going, but you can’t decide if you already came or went.
I finally did figure it out, but it took a funny question from someone on the yearbook staff to help me find the answer. After about six hours of off-and-on frustration with the normal ups and down of a school day (no explanation needed for teachers), a student came up to me in the hall to ask me to follow up on a question I had answered for her in a previous interview.
The original question was, “How are some of the changes this year affecting you and your teaching?” I told her that I thought the changes were good, and that we were off to a very positive beginning. She wanted to know more, so she did a follow up interview and asked me to be more specific.
The only problem was that when she interviewed me a month ago, I was in a great place and things were going well that day — obviously. Today, when she asked me, I thought I might laugh because I told her that of all days to ask me that question, did this have to be the one? I confessed that today I thought I was going to crash and burn because of an isolated incident with a belligerent student.
For about 20 minutes, I couldn’t think about any of the great students I have and the awesome work they do in class. I couldn’t think about their creativity and their amazing school spirit, and how just one week ago how proud I was to be seen with the entire senior class at the Renaissance Festival in Huntersville. I kept thinking as I passed them throughout the day, “Those are the kids I teach. They are the best kids I know.”
How could I go from thinking such positive thoughts and having such wonderful feelings about my profession just a week ago to thinking that maybe I’m too old to manage teenagers any longer, or maybe I’m just running out of gas?
All it took was one student showing disrespect to me — and to everyone else in the room — to make me think negatively about my whole school and the entire teaching profession.
To further the irony, I also found out that I had been appointed to a “Culture and Climate” correlate group on the faculty which was to meet after school. It was formed to foster a positive and healthy working environment for teachers and their students.
So what was that young lady’s question again?
“What exactly do you see that is positive about some of the changes we have made this year at school?”
Did she really want my answer at that moment? Was it her fault someone else had been rude and disrespectful? Could I throw away all my good feelings about the year up to that single moment just because of one bad experience?
In the midst of my anger and my frustration, I was also collecting over 75 applications for the National Honor Society. I was meeting the brightest and best of our school’s underclassmen as they dropped off their paperwork to me in my room. Were they responsible for my bad day?
Teaching is a funny job, but it doesn’t always make me laugh. Sometimes it makes me cry.
It makes me cry because I realize there are students I will never reach, even though I care for them. It makes me cry to think of the wasted talent and lives that are sitting in front of me each day, not knowing that they are only months away from facing a world that doesn’t care about them at all.
But then teaching makes me smile again because there are many, many more kids who are doing all they can to prepare for their futures with enthusiasm and energy.
And sometimes I have to laugh — at myself — because I get to help set the culture and climate not only of a school, but also of a life.
Larry Efird teaches at A.L. Brown High School in Kannapolis.