Because I happen to be involved with several online professional development groups, I read quite a few "rants" about administrators, parents, co-workers, and students. They usually begin with "sorry in advance for this rant" or "I just had to share this with people who would understand." Maybe you've done this, whether as a cryptic Facebook status, tweet, or just venting away in the faculty lunchroom with colleagues. What I'm going to try to explain to you is this: It's not helping. You may feel better in the near term for having a good "virtual cry" but all those "likes" and retweets your rant is garnering is nothing more than proving that misery loves company. This post is about helping you to have less misery in your life. This post is about aligning yourself with successful peers, not commiserating with those who are convinced that the world is against them.
Now, take a moment. I want you to use whatever criteria you deem appropriate in order to choose one or two teachers who are successful to you. They can be "large-scale" successful or "under the radar" successful, it's up to you, just make sure they are people you truly admire. Now, ask yourself how often you've seen these teachers ranting? Chances are one of the main reasons you admire these folks is that they rarely seem to have troubles at all. How is this possible? How do these teachers seem to have all the luck?
I've been teaching for almost 25 years now. Like you, I've done my share of complaining about work, and here is what I've learned: Complaining is, in reality, an admission of my own inadequacies. Think about it. When we complain, what we're really expressing is our own frustration about not being good/clever/smart enough to solve a problem. We've run into a brick wall, and it doesn't feel so good. We don't have the savvy, the tenacity, the inspirational capability to overcome whatever it is that is happening "to" us. It's far easier to shout NO FAIR and to believe that there is nothing we can do. But this "woe, is me" way of walking through life is depressing....and not just for us, but for everyone with whom we interact...especially our students, who are far more perceptive than we give them credit for.
Perhaps the reason you can't get your students to engage is because they can sense how defeated you are. If one of our responsibilities is to teach problem-soving, perhaps we need to look in the mirror and start solving some problems for ourselves.
Years ago I gave myself permission to complain, under one condition: The complaint statement has to be accompanied by "....and here's what I'm going to do about it." Once you start processing in this way, you begin to realize that you are the only person who really knows what your challenges are, and therefore you are the one who is uniquely positioned to do something about it. Sometimes when I complain in this way I don't know what to do about it, so next steps need to include seeking advice or constructive criticism from trusted colleagues. The point is to take action rather than looking for sympathy. As my friend Cathi says, "it may not be your fault, but it is your problem."
I've learned that complaining without taking action just leads to more problems. I've also learned that a successful career in teaching is achieved by willing yourself to look in the mirror every day in an effort to break through whatever brick walls may appear. Randy Pausch, former professor at Carnegie Mellon put it like this:
"The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something."
You may need to get better at people skills, strategizing, organizing, and yes....pedagogy, in order to solve whatever it is you are complaining about. All of these improvements are worthwhile (and frankly necessary) if you are going to become the teacher....no, the human you are meant to be. You are the only person that knows you are reading this right now. Will you...right now...make the decision to stop ranting and start taking steps to improve yourself so you can knock down some brick walls?
Remember....it all starts with "and here's what I'm going to do about it."