I heartily accept the often-heard accusation that I’m a hopeless optimist when it comes to my students, and I think I actually enjoy hearing it, because it never fails to remind me of the sundial I used to see in my grandmother’s garden, the one that had “I only count sunny hours” inscribed on it. I used to think a lot about that sundial’s message when I was younger, about the fact that there’s so much sunshine in our lives, so much to marvel at and be grateful for, and I began to be bewildered as to why people so often insisted on seeing only the sinister side of things, counting mostly the gloomy hours instead of the sunny ones. It may be that I began “looking on the bright side” way back then, when that silvery sundial showed me that brightness is a big part of our world, and that a sincere and sensible cheerfulness about things could be mine for the choosing. And it is a choice. When I sit in meetings concerning students and listen to list after list of negatives about the kids, I sometimes think, “What if we chose to use these sixty minutes to make a list of the strengths of the students instead of the weaknesses? What if we counted the moments of sunshine these students bless us with instead of detailing, over and over, their faults and failings?” It is definitely a choice, and I choose, whenever possible, to focus on the brightness rather than the darkness. If I have one hour to talk about 40 students, I’m going to give a report on the sometimes small and scarcely noticeable strengths I saw in the past week – perhaps Peter being polite to a girl in the hall, or Jeanine jumping for joy when her friend got a good grade in English class, or Karrie Lee creating one splendid paragraph in an otherwise undistinguished essay. There’s enough darkness in the world without my adding more to it. I choose to see the sunshine in my students’ work, and there’s always a generous supply of it. Even Jerry, who’s just managing to pass my course, occasionally says something in a discussion that will wake up the room as though newfound lights have been suddenly switched on.
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