Professional Learning

Cynicism Is Contagious; So Is Hope

April 17, 2013
Photo credit: vandenbussche_wim via flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In my last post, I promised readers a special post on a topic of great importance to me. Fighting cynicism is that topic. It is one of the most important issues for me and needs to be one of the most important goals for all schools. Cynicism can rot out a school the way termites rot out a wooden home. A cynic is someone who has given up hope that things can better. They are not realists or skeptics, who often ask hard questions or demonstrate care before accepting the first new thing that comes along. Cynicism is a plague that kills dreams. It sucks the life out of teachers and robs students of hope. No student deserves to have a teacher who has given up hope.

I once gave a speech to a large number of educators in the Chicago area at an event that required attendance of the district's teachers. A minute into my presentation, a teacher from the back of the auditorium shouted out a question. "What is the meaning of professionalism?" he asked. Before I could gather my thoughts to answer, he yelled, "I mean, is it professional to make me waste my time and come to this stupid conference?" That opened to door for me to answer his first question. "No, it's not professional to make you waste your time doing anything," I said, "but real professionals will listen because, even if they learn only one insight that might help their students, it is worth it." After he walked out a minute later, I thanked God that my children never had a teacher like that.

Six Symptoms of Serious Cynicism

I've found six ways to tell if an educator is dangerously close to hopeless cynicism. If you are a teacher or administrator and see a colleague with these symptoms, try to help that teacher regain hope by using the strategies that follow this list. Don't worry If you find yourself behaving in these ways occasionally -- we all have rough days. However, if you find yourself doing the following on a regular basis, then try the suggestions yourself.

First, the symptoms:

  1. You check your watch before your first cup of coffee or before nine AM to see how much longer until you can go home.
  2. What you teach becomes more important than who you teach.
  3. You begin believing that nothing works with "these" kids, that they are beyond hope.
  4. Every day feels the same.
  5. You often wonder why no one is doing anything to make life better for you.
  6. You have lost your own love of learning. Tedium has replaced wonder.

Five Strategies to Help Teachers Stop Cynical Feelings

Here are five powerful strategies that can help when you feel cynical or that you can use to help another teacher if you are a colleague, administrator or school consultant.

    • Being prepared
    • Designing great lessons (see my previous post)
    • Helping colleagues
    • Doing things to make the school a better place
    • Organizing events that bring joy to colleagues, like a bagel and coffee morning before classes start (donuts and bear claws are better left in the bakery)

Cynicism can spread through the school and destroy the atmosphere, the learning and, in some cases, a teacher’s career. Fight back. The antidote is hope for all.

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  • Mental Health
  • Teacher Wellness

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