Words of Affirmation

“Good job.”  “That was really well done.”  “I’m impressed, I don’t think I could have done that.”  “That’s a great idea!”  “Thank you for putting in so much effort.”

Ahhh, words of affirmation.  They feel good when you hear them, especially when they are unexpected.  It’s also one of the most heavily emphasized techniques in teaching children.  They remember much better what they are supposed to do when you praise them for doing a good job, plus it encourages the other children to behave.  But the same goes for adults.  We probably don’t need quite as much as children do, nor should we receive it for every little accomplishment.  As adults, we should just do some things without expecting to receive anything in return.  I don’t expect to be praised for showing up to work on time, nor do I expect to hear affirmation every day that I’m doing a good job with the kids.  But sometimes the praise doesn’t come when it’s really needed.
I’m a perfectionist by nature.  It means my job at a daycare can really destroy my moral.  I do make mistakes and the problem with working with people is that when I make a mistake, someone gets hurt.  Sometimes a message doesn’t get to a parent when necessary, sometimes I loose my cool with the kids, and sometimes I make a choice that nobody else agrees with.  Those are the things I constantly hear about.
I refer to this past winter as the Longest Winter.  It snowed and snowed and snowed.  So much snow that the kids had something like ten snow days, one week had four in itself.  On snow days,  I had 20-30 hyperactive grade schoolers without a schedule.   I was stressed.  Likewise, my classroom was going through rotating teachers because a teacher had to leave unexpectedly, so some days I was the only teacher who knew how things were supposed to go.  The stress went up.  And nobody really said much about what I was doing.  I would get comments like, “Hmm. . . . the kids seem a little loud today,” or receive complaints from parents about what happened during the day.  Every once in awhile a teacher from another classroom would tell me that they couldn’t work with the school agers everyday and that they didn’t envy my job.  My husband had to deal with most of my stress and remind me that as long as nobody got hurt or because emotionally traumatized, I was doing my job.  But never once did someone say, “You’re doing a good job, you’re doing the right thing.”
After the Longest Winter, I decided to get a new job.  I told the director in March that I would be resigning at the end of the school year–she didn’t seem surprised.  Then I slowly started to tell my co-workers that I would be leaving.  Then the words of affirmation started coming.  “Oh, you’ve done such a good job with those kids.”  “That room was a disaster before you came.”  I had one parent tell me that I really made an impact on her daughter’s life.  I think I will treasure that conversation forever because someone thought I had done something right.  But for the most part the praise came in too little, too late.  Even now I go into work expecting to hear that so-and-so’s mom called is unhappy about why her child had such-and-such problem or how we should change something we’re doing because it’s not treating the children fairly.  Never do I expect my boss to call me in and tell me that a parent was pleased with something that I did.
In long the run, I suppose the “life lesson” from this experience is that I need to make sure to complement people more.  I guess that’s my new resolution–to make sure that I give words of affirmation to those around me.
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