Reduce Stress: Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

Chapman as Brian Cohen in Life of Brian

Chapman as Brian Cohen in Life of Brian (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week I was stressed.  On Tuesday I attended a meeting to learn about a computer-based test that evaluates a student’s learning.  We will administer the test three times this year in my freshmen English classes.  Oops, correction, we are only testing students in regular English, not students in Honors English.  I was perplexed on the logic, so I asked.  I found out many others asked too and received various answers that almost sound good.  The big reason is money.  The more students who take the test means the more money it costs.  That was stress factor number one.  However, I realized that it is not my decision.  I can dislike it, but I have to respect it enough to do my job.  Once I did that, I stopped being a “negative Nellie.”  I concentrated on how the test will help me with the English 9 students.  In addition, I began to plan how I would do something similar on my own with the Honors English 9 students.

Stress factor number two also had to do with the test.  I had to go online and set up the classes for testing.  I readily admit that this was more of a stress of the unknown: learning to set up the classes.  Once I quit thinking about it and started doing it, the stress diminished.  It did take me about an hour and 15 minutes, and I could have used the time grading papers.  However, it had to be done. Plus, I don’t think I have to do this for future tests.

My third stress resulted from our lack of computers.  Our principal set up all of our testing times, and they had to be within a certain window of time.  I noticed a problem with one of my classes.  My third period was scheduled to take the test on Thursday, but they were also scheduled to attend a freshman orientation activity.  I let the principal know, and she said she would take care of it.  She did.  However, my stress was due to not knowing until the end of the day on Wednesday what the kids would be doing on Thursday.   I was taking ownership of a problem I did not create, nor was asked to solve.  I stressed needlessly and negative thoughts seeped into my cranium.

The stress at work continued on Tuesday when we had a professional development meeting.  We were given data on our students’ Ohio Graduation Test scores and ACT scores over the last five years.  It was presented to us in a manner that said we are slipping and need to figure out how to make things better.  I felt attacked.  Our ACT scores dropped 0.1% over the five-year period.  This percentage may equate to about 30 students.  I soon realized the drop may be an indicator, but it was not the doomsday of the end of the world as predicted by the Mayan calendar.

When I shared my stressful life with my wonderful wife, she smiled.  Not a condescending smile, but a knowing, understanding smile.  She told me I was trying to control things beyond my control.

She gave me some good advice.  (When we married, there is no doubt I got the better deal!)

  1. Don’t focus on the bad or negative.  If you do this you will only see this.  Instead, focus on the positives.  Then, you begin to see the sunny side of the street.  The way you think can become your reality.
  2. Focus on the possibilities.  Have a “can do” attitude.  Whatever life sends my way; I will accomplish great things with it.
  3. When you look at a problem in a positive manner, you see solutions.  When you look at a problem in a negative manner, you reinforce the thought that it can’t be done.
  4. We all face difficulty.  How will you deal with it?  Complain or work for change?
  5. Whatever solution you have may not be perfect, but it will be better than doing nothing.

This week, I went into the testing with her thoughts in mind.   Our school arranged to have teaching-learning coaches available to help us on our first day of testing.  During the first testing period, the password we were given was not correct.  As we pondered what to do, a student raised his hand.

“Yes, Josh,” I asked.

“I got in,” he replied.

The coach and I looked at each other.  I asked, “How?”

“I used last year’s password,” and he told us what it was.  Sure enough, it worked.  I do not know what Josh’s results are yet, but he is the kid I would hire.  He solved the problem!  I do know, after my wife’s advice, I was realizing that the login problem was beyond my control and would be corrected.  I did not need to stress about it right then.

This same thinking helped me on Friday.  My third period class (the one that was double booked for testing and an activity) was scheduled to take the test on Friday.  We arrived in the media center’s computer lab to find all of the laptops locked in carts, and no one knew where the key was.  I did not emotionally take ownership of the problem, as I was told everything would be taken care of.  Nonetheless, I did not say, “Oh well.”  I opened the back of one computer cart and gave half the class laptops.  Luckily, the key holder did not lock the back door of one cabinet.  I had learned the test takes half the period, so I figured the kids could share the laptops.  I focused on the possibilities for success.  Meanwhile, my teaching partner had run around the building and found someone who knew where the key was.  (She did the running because she is training for a half marathon.  I can run two steps before needing a break.)  The test was a success!

It’s funny.  I was thinking how bad the year was starting out, and it was a self-fulfilling prophecy.  However, the truth is the kids were great.  Josh hacked into the test … sort of.  The rest handled our technological glitches with aplomb and patience.

There are many changes for educators during the next few years.  By focusing on the positive, I will be able to learn, improve, and accomplish better things with the students.

I am glad my wife reminded me of following Eric Idle’s song, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” in Monty Python’s Life of Brian:

Always look on the bright side of life…If life seems jolly rotten,There’s something you’ve forgotten!

And that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing,


When you’re feeling in the dumps,

Don’t be silly chumps,

Just purse your lips and whistle — that’s the thing!

And… always look on the bright side of life…

Eric Idle Sings Monty Python

Eric Idle Sings Monty Python (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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Filed under Education, Humor, Learning

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