Answering the Call: Gratitude in the Valley

One teacher decided to model an attitude of gratitude at school and at home — even during the difficult times.

By Amber Chandler

Suck it up, buttercup. Put on your big-girl underpants and deal with it. If you have time to complain, then you have time to do something about it. Don’t wallow.

If you were to interview my children, these would be phrases that are both very familiar and very annoying.

I’m not a complainer. I don’t like complainers (ironic, right?). However, this New Year’s I decided I wanted to not only refrain from complaining, but I wanted to begin a gratitude journal. As teachers, we all have our peaks and valleys, and I think it is very important to model the appropriate attitude for my students at school and family at home. The journal, I thought, would add a level of intentionality. My plan was simple: find both spiritual and scientific motivation to cultivate a more grateful attitude.

Obviously, the Bible is chock-full of inspiring words. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • In every thing give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
  • Thanks therefore be unto God for his unspeakable gift. (2 Corinthians 9:15)
  • I will give thanks to you Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds (Psalm 9:1)

The first thing that struck me as I looked for my inspiring verses was the fact that gratitude would be an active endeavor — verbs everywhere! Feeling confident and armed with inspiration, I began to feel that this was going to be pretty easy.

As I started my research on the health benefits of gratitude, I found 7 Scientifically Proven Benefits Of Gratitude That Will Motivate You To Give Thanks Year-Round by Amy Morin. Morin’s research was convincing, and in my poking around, I found that she was the author of the book 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do. I loved Morin’s style so much that I also listened to the its podcast on New Year’s Day, and before I went to bed I recorded my first entry in my spiffy new journal which had a single line for each day. I had chosen this style because of course I could write one simple sentence a day.

I wrote, “Grateful for the Woodfords! Christmas and New Year fun.” We don’t live near family, and so our family friends have us over to share in their traditions each year, and we are always very thankful for the experience. If you are thinking that this is starting a little self-congratulatory and a veiled  humble brag, then you need to keep reading. Things did NOT continue as planned.

Within the next week, I lost my driver’s license while we were in the process of buying a new car that we were forced to buy because my husband’s vehicle died. Both buying a car without proper ID and coming up with a down payment the week after Christmas was challenging. This would be hard enough, but I was hit with the stomach flu. And, get this, I didn’t go back to school for TWO days after the end of break. As teachers, we get up and go, especially after a break, right? Not a chance. I was in school for exactly one day before we had a weather day because it was -25 degrees out. I live in an old house. Many prayers were uttered that my pipes would not freeze. A few days later, I broke a tooth and had to take yet another day off from school for an emergency dental visit. This sounds ridiculous, right? When I told my husband that I was keeping a gratitude journal, he actually snorted out, “What are you possibly writing down?” through his horrible cough which had developed during these first days of January.

To say that I’ve been feeling stuck in a valley is an understatement. For all of my platitudes about positive attitudes and gratitude, I knew that I had to lean into this experience. When it comes to matters such as this, I don’t believe in coincidence. What am I supposed to be hearing? What message is for me in the valley? This idea of the valley really has stuck with me, and I found a sermon about by David Ratcliff called “Five Dark Valleys of Life”. The five valleys are sickness, trials, persecutions, doubts, and death. Thankfully, I’ve only been dealing with a few of these valleys.

Why have I decided to share this tale of woe with you? As educators, we should practice gratitude in the valley. The holidays are so often a “mountaintop” experience for us that we don’t see that some of our students might be emerging from the valley when they return to us. As we move into the second half of the year with our students, I encourage you to remember that they might not have as much to be grateful for as we do. I’ve kept my promise to myself to record the things I’m grateful for each day, and frankly, it has been a challenge. Yet I am learning to look past the circumstances and choose my reaction to what is happening around me.

This is a lesson that we can share with our students, and it will serve them well. I encourage you to try out a gratitude journal. I can guarantee you’ll be surprised with the things you intentionally notice and appreciate!

Amber Chandler is a National Board Certified ELA teacher and the author of The Flexible ELA Classroom: Practical Tools for Differentiated Instruction in Grades 4-8. She’s online at