It’s in vogue right now to call out toxic positivity. My intention is for you to see exactly what it is and how it works.
Administrator calls for a staff meeting. Things are not going well; state test scores are down, behavior problems are up, and parents are unhappy. Administrator looks out at you with plaintive eyes and says, “We need to do better.”
Then Administrator tells a story from their time in teaching and reads a letter from a past student, and eyes all around the room brim with tears at the thought of the impact that teachers can have.
"A Great Teacher is Like a Candle"
Next, a PowerPoint slide says, "A great teacher is like a candle - it consumes itself to light the way for others." This is a red flag moment. Dry your tears, and stop imagining yourself as the hero who saves a kid's life or the recipient of the lovely thank you letter; you are in real danger, and I’m not even kidding.
Toxic Positivity is Harming Teachers
This is how toxic positivity is ruining the lives of our teachers. Administrators across the country expect this destructive level of emotional, physical, and intellectual sacrifice. But why? Because it’s what makes the system work.
If you can emotionally abuse, gaslight, and manipulate people into working countless hours and sacrificing their personal lives but, most importantly, internalize the failures of a broken system, you have a perpetual motion machine that runs the system.
You never have to think about fixing that system because, for a relatively small economic cost (compared to completely rebuilding the broken system), you keep the wheels turning, the kids babysat, the textbook and standardized test companies in business, and the professional development circuit populated.
But this has to stop. Yesterday.
Setting Emotional Boundaries
In the meantime, teachers must set emotional boundaries.
“No, I can’t purchase those class supplies out of my own pocket.”
“No, I can’t stay until after 6 o’clock to meet with that parent.”
“No, I didn’t get every paper graded last night.”
And I can hear you, as I write this, screaming, “I’ll be written up!” or “I’ll get a poor evaluation!” or “I’ll lose my job!” This is most likely not true; teachers have contracts with rights and responsibilities that are clearly outlined. Human Candles don’t use those contracts to set boundaries because deep down, we fear Administrator won’t think we’re pretty and bright anymore. And you’re right, they won’t.
So what’s the upside to giving up your "calling" as a Human Candle but staying on as a Teacher? You’re free. Free to use your personal days, free to work contracted hours, and free to save a majority of the love in your heart for your family, partners, pets, or house plants.
You can have the time and energy to exercise, take up a hobby, adopt a dog, learn to square dance, and do all the things that Non-Candle Humans get to do. You are no longer a prisoner of Administrator’s toxic desire to use you to prop up a broken system until the sheer weight of the task destroys you.
If we all did this tomorrow, and we all drew a line in the sand, they would fix the system because it won’t work without us.