Variable Moods and Extrinsic Sources of Happiness
For the most part, I try to steer my own happiness. I work to consciously react to situations and choose my mood. I can’t from the one glaring area; however, where my mood is entirely dependent upon external factors: my students’ success.
Of course, it makes sense that I want my students to do well. I spend the better part of a year forming relationships with them and working hard to help them understand algebra (unfortunately, I do more of the work than they do in many of the cases). I find joy in those lightbulb moments where the elegant simplicity of a linear function becomes apparent to them. I grin from ear to ear when I realize that they have learned the power of persisting through a difficult problem and the satisfaction that comes with a hard-won answer. I love to see them mature over the year and learn more about themselves.
So, what’s the problem? The problem is that the success of a middle schooler on any given day is impacted by such variables as the phase of the moon, Justin Bieber’s current hairstyle, the number of vampire movies playing in the theater, and some complicated formula (pretty sure it’s the inverse square) that involves the length of time since the most recent Gears of War was released and the strictness of their parents. I don’t have a whole lot of influence on those things.
My moods can shift like the tides depending upon how my students are performing. When their test scores are up, so am I. When they fail, I feel like I have. The result? My mood takes on the shape of a sine wave, steered by the hands of 8th graders. I take their grades personally, even though I have limited control over them. The times that make teaching worthwhile are when I hear the words, “Thank you for explaining math to me. I get it now.” My goal is for none of them to ever be held back in their goals due to a lack of math comprehension.
I’m sure this is something that parents feel, only on a larger scale. You want your progeny to work hard and be successful, but you have to step back and accept that they will make their own choices. Yes, you have an influence on their choices and successes, but they ultimately are the ones in control of their actions.
As we head into testing season, I am going to work to separate my happiness from my students’ performance. I want to be more clear in my own mind about my role and the limitations of my role. I can take pleasure in what I can control; I know that I have worked hard to reach the students and to make the math accessible to them. I refuse to let a number 2 pencil dictate my mood. But it will be nice if they do well. Maybe if Justin Bieber cuts his hair…