Bare-Knuckled Optimism

Before the first week of school I wondered about my sense of excitement. Was it unwarranted and naïve? Was I ignoring something important that I should be dong?

There is a small part of me that makes me wonder if my confidence will melt into bravado when that first bell rings, the first bags hit my floor, and I choose whether or not to smile. For now, I will keep grinning and planning for this sure-to-be exciting and challenging year.

The excitement hasn’t died down by any means, but the challenge has certainly been amped up! As a new teacher, I’m trying to do somewhere on the order of one book-study a month for various groups in school and in my region of Missouri. I’m preparing for the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Conference by reading the authors I hope to meet. I’ve been enlisted in a reading cohort study group by my curriculum director, and our English department is reinventing itself every week as we embark on a long journey of self-evaluation.

All of these are good things, which I enjoy and benefit from as a new teacher.

My last post featured all of the bad and the ugly. Now, I hope to highlight something better.


Okay, okay, so I’d like nothing more than to post the last sequence from Sergio Leone’s classic western masterpiece, but I don’t own the rights, so I’d better just stick to my guns<–knee slapper! and tell you we all need something very specific to succeed in this business:


I’d crow on and on about hope, but I’m afraid of conflating some obscure social and political ideal that has nothing to do with my message for education. Hope is important, but what’s been vital to my fight against instructional fatigue?

Optimism. Bare-Knuckled and Unapologetic Optimism.

You have to know you’re good. You have to prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and dress yourself in cliches sometimes! The attitude, I’m finding out, is your strongest weapon against sucking as a teacher. Just as actors need to stay in character using whatever method necessary, we as teachers need to do mental and emotional prep work before we go on stage. Students are smart, they know what teachers hate their jobs, who doesn’t care, and who let’s kids get by with less than their best. Engendering a sense of collaborative challenge in a classroom is a daunting task, but it’s one we are all called to each day.

I think Marcus Aurelius said it best, “The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it.” 383px-Marcus_Aurelius_Glyptothek_MunichThis meditation shows me the way through more dark alleys of life than almost anything else (maybe my wife’s cookies help too). You can’t stop the world from changing as a whole, but you can control how you react to whatever changes come your way. This has been my operative philosophy of life for a long time, and it has never steered me wrong. Maybe you’re not one to “think positive!” or “put your bright side out!” Some of us do just find getting dressed each morning without our smiles, but how can you really expect to see any kind of shift in what comes your way, if you are working constantly to convince yourself that you are, in fact, doomed to be where you are.

Too many of my fellow teachers are mired in a negative frame of mind, and I don’t always blame them for being there. Many are truly overworked and underpaid, but I’m there too.  I could celebrate my stresses too if I chose to, but I’d rather be happy than publish my strife most times (even though sometimes it’s important to let others know you’re human!). I vent to a few close friends about what irks me, but publicly I try very hard to exercise the thoughts that uplift me and encourage me because when I see people doing that, it helps me in return.

5 thoughts on “Bare-Knuckled Optimism

  1. Pingback: uberVU - social comments

  2. Steve, it was interesting to read this post and reflect on it as someone who has now, ahem, been teaching ten years. I find this renewed optimism comes to me about once every two weeks, and that definitely, the ebb and flow of life applies to the classroom as well.

    Confidence can be mistaken for optimism, which I believe, has carried me through MANY bad days, because even when the students aren’t sure if they like it, they know that I KNOW where I a taking them next, which is very comforting to them, even to a 17 year old.

    So I guess I would add to your thoughts, that a “man (or woman) with a plan” should always be on your short list. If I have learned one thing, it is at least start with one, otherwise, you may be as the wise Todd Smith recently commented, “a rudderless ship.”

  3. I like this post A LOT. I agree with it, and you have good insight Mr. Moore:) This is my favorite sentence: “You can’t stop the world from changing as a whole, but you can control how you react to whatever changes come your way.” So so true.

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