I've heard them defined in many ways. Some have described them as "glow-worms" battling the "black holes"; others have called them "water fountains" fighting against the "drains"; or "sunbeams" versus "rain clouds", "snowflakes" or "hailstones". These are all terms I've heard used to describe the various characters to be found in the staff room. By this point in the year, a colleague's attitude to life and learning is very obvious.
All of the above-mentioned metaphors point to the tendency to face the pressures of teaching in one of two ways. The first is an attitude of mind that continually looks for the joys and privileges that brought you into the job in the first place. The second allows the stresses and anxieties that daily life throws up to drag you into a downward spiral.
Anyone who thinks about their own workplace can think of someone who is a "glow-worm". They won't necessarily be wearing a T-shirt bearing the slogan "I love my job" (like the one my head bought me), yet they leave a trail of lighter spirits behind them. It's the little things in their demeanour.
They ask you how you are and they mean it, or they tell you about something that went really well, rather than just moaning about their class.
Equally, we know of colleagues who have the ability to cast darkness on every aspect of school life, and a conversation with them leaves us feeling drained and down. Of course, every job has its high and low seasons but, for most of us, which of these characters we become is a matter of daily choice. There is plenty to drag us down each and every day, and that is what will define our attitude unless we actively seek out positives that help us to cast our eyes up to places that will renew our energy and keep us moving forward.
So where are these "places"? I recently saw a news report from a goldmine in Africa. There was an enormous contrast between the vast wealth of the mine owners and the dreadful conditions suffered by those who do the mining. These poorly paid miners were covered from head to toe in mud. They spent all their days up to their knees in grimy water, panning for tiny nuggets of precious metal. In one shot, a worker put his fingers into a pan of sludge and brought out a shiny, gleaming speck of gold that sparkled in the sunlight.
At the same time as feeling thankful for my own working conditions, I was struck by this metaphor as an illustration of my own days in the classroom.
In the long days full of sludge, it is the "nugget" moments that shine. And these come in myriad ways if we look for them. The pupil that says "thank you", the line in the child's poem that shows imagination beyond your expectations, the kindness and care of an older pupil to a younger one. If we capture these nuggets and bring them out to share with others, then the classroom, the corridors and the school overall will become a lighter and richer place.
I have decided to collect these nuggets of gold so that I can remember them. Whenever I can, I take digital photographs and save them in a folder named "nuggets". I have a similar collection of plastic wallets filled with photocopies of work that made me smile or gasp. I figure that if I collect enough nuggets, I'll have something to look at when life gets sludgy.
Perhaps I'll even be persuaded to wear the "I love my job" T-shirt.
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