Chris Margolin

The Semantics of the Moment: Don’t Be a Negative Nancy

“Confessions of an Educator” columnist Chris Margolin is working on being more present, more optimistic, and more kind. It’s not an easy feat.


I’m not the most positive person. I’m probably, at times, at the very base level of pessimistic. The glass is rarely half full. In reality, my glass has whiskey or water in it, and when it gets too low, I fill it up again. I’ve really been trying, as of late, to become more positive. It’s not easy.

My tongue tends to lead with the negative, because it was what I heard growing up. The thing that’s hard to explain is that though that statement may have been negative, it wasn’t meant to be. It was meant to be a commentary on the situation and, even as a little kid, I understood that to be the norm. It was everywhere around me. I mean, what group of smelly, puberty-hitting boys leads with a positive comment? We all talk shit. We all lead with the worst-case scenario and with the least amount of tact and with absolutely no filter; but the point is made. There was no questioning what the person was saying and, if we felt they were on the right track, we just agreed or talked about it, but it was just sort of understood that it would be delivered as such. Some of us grew out of it. Others just got better at it.

In a more personal setting, even as an adult, I’m still a Negative Nancy. I still get frustrated and don’t always have the greatest grasp on filters or tact. I’m learning. I’m working on it. It’s not easy. I feel like I have 35 years of negative attitude coursing through my vocal chords—and doing so much before my brain realizes what’s going on. It’s a terrible trait.

I once yelled at a girlfriend for complimenting people too much. I’m not that bad anymore. I sometimes even give compliments myself.

A few years into my teaching career, I was pulled into Mr. Big Boss’ office and told, “While you have some really valid points, you do not have any tact.” We were at a professional development seminar and other teachers felt uncomfortable by my brash approach. Really, I was just being very honest. I wasn’t yelling. I wasn’t swearing. I was knowledgeable about the issues at hand and felt strongly about how they should be handled. I had even warned the instructor that she was opening quite the can of worms by asking that question. She had heard my answer earlier at a small group meeting. She either didn’t think I was going to say it or knew it would go terribly wrong. It might have been a bit of both.

I said exactly what I wanted, the way I wanted to, and saw veteran teachers—well-respected teachers—nodding along and seconding my sentiment. I felt justified in what I was saying. But that didn’t mean that I was tactful. It doesn’t mean that the way I came off wasn’t rude or offensive or that it may have genuinely made people feel uncomfortable. Hell, if they truly agreed with the practices put in front of them, they sure as shit didn’t want to hear what I was going to say. Unfortunately, even though some agreed with me, more people were probably put off by the way I was speaking and not really listening to the words.

Mr. Big Boss didn’t wholly disagree with what I was saying and we had a fantastic conversation about the information being conveyed. There was talk about how teachers from a certain school felt uncomfortable with the way I went about what I was saying. But again, no one had really disagreed with what I’d said. Being uncomfortable and disagreeing, do not always walk hand-in-hand.

More than anything, what I took away from that meeting was that, in a professional setting, it is important to always keep a steady hold over the semantics of the moment. Be ever-present. Be calculated, but don’t point fingers. Play chess. Know ten moves ahead. And just be kind. There’s no need to pick at whatever the information is or whoever is in the room. It’s not unrealistic to just be present, but it sure as hell is not easy.




Chris Margolin

Chris Margolin spent more than a decade in Education as a high school English teacher, and is now an Instructional Coach for the Longview School District. He is the founder of The Poetry Question, an online journal which focuses on reviews of small press poetry publications, and runs a regular series called "The Power of Poetry," where notable poets share their personal stories of how poetry has affected their lives. Margolin resides in Vancouver, Washington with his wife, and daughter. 

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