Today Will Be a Great Day


Honestly, I have no reason to believe that it will be, but this is how I’m going to start my day today. I am going to tell myself that “Today will be a great day!” First off, it’s Friday. Fridays are good. Second, it’s payday. Paydays are good. So with two things already going my way, I’m just going to believe they will continue to improve.

The Mayo Clinic says this about the power of positive thinking:

Negative thoughts can feed pessimism and create unnecessary stress. You can learn to turn negative thoughts into positive ones. The process is straightforward, although it’s challenging, especially at first. Start by following one simple rule: Don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to anyone else. Throughout the day, stop and evaluate what you’re thinking. If a negative thought enters your mind, evaluate it rationally and respond with affirmations of what is good about yourself.

I think I can take this advice. When students begin to stress me, I will simply decide not to get angry but attempt to deal with the situation in a positive way. Maybe turn it into a learning experience. In fact, I did this the other day, and it worked out beautifully. To give you an example, I have been teaching a unit on Ancient Chinese history, which includes the philosophies of Confucianism, Daoism, and Legalism. Confucianism is all about respect and learning the order of relationships. Daoism is the search for the natural balance in the world, but it is said that no one can truly understand the Dao (also translated as “The Way”). Daoists believe that those who speak of the way, do not know the way, and those who know the way, do not speak of the way. Legalism teaches that human are naturally evil and must be beaten into submission with extremely harsh laws. By the way, all of these are over-simplifications.

Earlier this week, I’d given my students an assignment to complete a study guide based on a list of terms I’d given them. I would then go over the list of terms the next day for those who’d completed the study guide, showing them not just how to find definitions but more importantly how to determine the significance of each of the terms. When I went around to check and see who had done the assignment, only six students out of twenty-five had completed the assignment. So, I had those six com to the front of the room. It turned out that three of the six had copied the study guide of one of the other students. I told those four students to sit back down. The two remaining who had completed the task would receive a 100 on the test without having to take it.

Then I explained to them my rationale. You see, if they’d each followed Confucian beliefs, they would have respected me, i.e. their teacher, enough to complete the assignment and have it finished on time. Only the two who completed the task would have been allowed to take the test. All others would fail. Furthermore, if this were under a Legalist system, those who had not completed the task would face harsh corporal punishment while the four who cheated would be expelled from the school. You see it was not fair for the students who did their work, to be rewarded with the correct answers and allow the other students to also receive the correct answers on the study guide, thus rewarding them for not completing the assignment. Therefore, I needed to find a balance.

The two who had done what was asked of them, no more and no less, had in this instance found the way, the Dao, the balance. Therefore, they alone should be rewarded. Hose four who had cheated had done more than asked by taking the extra step of copying someone else’s work, and thus had tipped the balance. Those who had not completed the task, even if it was because they did not do “merely” two or three definitions, had not reached the balance of completing the assignment. They too had failed to find the way. If I did not go over the study guide, they’d surely fail, because my students are often too lazy, such as not finishing and waiting for the correct answer from me or by finding only the definition and not the significance of a term.

My solution therefore was to reward the two good students by not requiring them to take the test and automatically giving them a 100, whereas all of the other students would have to redo their study guides under my guidance, and then have to study for the test in order to pass it. It was a rewarding teaching moment for me as I saw the understanding of these three philosophies truly click in their minds. They are unlikely to forget them. This may not have been a perfect lesson, I sure there were many flaws, but I did come up with this on the spur of the moment and it wasn’t plan. As any decent teacher learns to do, my students never knew I’d not planned this demonstration the whole time.

Will knowing the difference between Confucianism, Daoism, or Legalism help them in much more than possibly getting a question correct on Trivia Crack (a new iPhone game they are obsessed with, in case you’re wondering)? I doubt it, but what I do hope is that they will realize, in even a small way, that other belief systems are significant. There is a greater world out there, and it’s a world that we should understand better.

I really do have a passion for teaching. I don’t get moments like this very often, but on the rare occasions I do, it really does make it all worth it.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

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