Enthusiasm in the high school classroom

The power of positive thinking

I can’t tell you how many times students enter my room and say something like “I’m SO tired,” or “Man, I’m exhausted,” or “Mrs. Yung, I’m gonna sleep in class today because I CANNOT keep my eyes open.” This happens not just during my 8 a.m. first hour class, but all day long. I bet I hear someone tell me they’re SO TIRED about nine or ten times a day. And you know what? I’m done with it. I think telling others and ourselves how tired we are all the time is simply a bad habit.

In fact, y’know what I’m tired of? Hearing how tired my students are.

Don’t I care about them? Of course I care. I feel bad that they feel tired and worn out. After all, I know how that feels. But here’s the thing: we can’t do anything about it while we’re at school. I still have something to teach and they still have something to learn. It benefits no one to remind ourselves out loud how tired we are.

Instead, I need to show students how to fight fatigue with the power of positive thinking.

This will totally reveal my age, but I remember the Protestant pastor and author Norman Vincent Peale back in the 1970s and 1980s.

He wrote a book called The Power of Positive Thinking and I remember skimming through a copy my mom had checked out from the public library. Peale also founded a Christian magazine called Guideposts that focused on wellness through inspirational content. My mother subscribed to Guideposts and I read those magazines, too.

As a basic tool for daily life, Peale’s message has its merits and between reading The Power of Positive Thinking and a few issues of Guideposts, I absorbed the minister’s ideas about the power of positive thinking.

Here’s the gist of what I absorbed from Peale in my formative years: If we allow our minds to dwell on positive messages and thoughts, we feel better. We gain energy. We gain optimism and peace.

It is definitely something I’ve ingrained into my being as I have grown older. My students will rarely hear me complaining about how tired I am. I literally don’t allow myself to do that.

Now, this is not to say that we shouldn’t listen to our bodies.

No, of course, if we are indeed tired and exhausted, then we should decide if our schedule or daily routines need to be adjusted to better align our internal clocks and increase our energy levels.

Disclaimer: Some readers may take exception to my advocacy for Peale’s positive thinking claims. For example, Tim Challies, author of The False Teachers: Norman Vincent Peale, labels Peale’s ideas that “all that stands between us and our desires is properly controlling our thoughts” as being too simplistic. And I can see how Peale’s ideas may seem flippant, i.e. if we just think happy thoughts everything will be okay. However, I also know how helpful the power of positive thinking is for me as I navigate through each busy school day.

And, to be sure, many high school students have hectic lives that include after-school jobs and family responsibilities. I know that several of my own students work late… 11 p.m., midnight, and even later! In addition, many aren’t earning money for non-essentials; most kids I know are working for serious concerns, such as money for college or gas money for driving to the vo-tech college fifteen miles away.

So I get it. Sometimes we have to work and no matter how hard we try, we are honestly tired.

Students laughing on a sunny day

However, let’s not talk about it when we can’t do something about it. By all means, a tired, worn-out student should seek out the counselor, talk to me, or visit with a parent or friend. After all, the priority should be to make a plan to prevent exhaustion and fatigue.

But walking around in class voicing our exhaustion is not going to help anyone. In other words, students and teachers shouldn’t give our fatigue the power to dominate our minds and our classes… even if we stayed up too late, worked past midnight, or overslept through three alarms and such.

Instead, let’s summon what energy we can. Let’s not dwell on our fatigue. Let’s get on with learning.

Here are seven super-easy tips to fight fatigue and increase the energy level in your classroom:

  1. Drink enough liquids, but avoid energy drinks that increase your energy only temporarily. Also try a carbonated water drink. Sometimes just the fizziness will perk you up.
  2. Get students moving. With a lengthy or more difficult text, I sometimes have students read it in sections, and then have students move to a different seat after each section. Another idea: “Take a Line for a Walk” to respond to a reading passage with some low-stakes writing.
  3. Have a piece of hard candy. It will last longer than a cookie or candy bar-type snack.
  4. Play some uplifting instrumental music. I quietly play a soft “Jazz in the Background” playlist on Spotify during all my classes. It’s a cross between energetic and relaxing, but it’s definitely uplifting.
  5. Chew gum. Sounds really simply, but it’s an instant “waker-upper.”
  6. Infuse your room with fragrance. Use an essential oil diffuser to make your room smell clean, fresh, and energizing. Peppermint oil is my favorite. Make sure to ask about any students who may be allergic to essential oils.
  7. Perk up with an energizing herbal hand cream. Inhale after you smooth it in! I keep a stash on my desk for students to use.

One last tip: teach what you love

For myself, I try to plan something for class that I am really excited to share with students: a poem that speaks to me, a fascinating essay that I discovered (such as “Our Capacity for Wonder” by John Green), or a few awesome paragraphs from a favorite book (First Chapter Fridays is a good way to do this!). If I’m excited with what I have to share with students, then it naturally energizes me and that energy spreads to students.

Marilyn Yung

In conclusion, encourage students not to dwell on their fatigue so that it dominates their day. Encourage them to ban, “I’m so tired!” from their conversations.

Instead, encourage them to reap the benefits of positive thinking in order to energize their days — and in turn, yours, too.

Have a great week!


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Stay in the profession you love. Here’s how. | ELA Brave and True


Published by Marilyn Yung

Writes | Teaches | Not sure where one ends and the other begins.

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