This morning, I saw a quote on Facebook that really stuck with me. I’ve been thinking about it all day and decided that, in mulling it over, I should write up a little post to help solidify my thoughts. I find that, in writing things down, I can often pull some new reflections and learning out of an experience. Words can be so powerful to help me collect and analyze my thoughts.
Cutting to the chase, here is the aforementioned quote:
While this is a beautiful and insightful quote about life, in true teacher fashion, I find that you can replace the word “life” with “teaching” and it seems to make even more sense (I guess you could say teaching basically IS life when you’re a teacher, so these two words are one and the same – haha).
I’m going to take a second to be completely realistic here (which, for optimistic, sunshine and rainbows me, is a change of pace): teaching is no tea party. Teaching is REALLY, REALLY hard. It’s the hardest thing I’ve done yet in my life. Now, don’t take me the wrong way, I absolutely love teaching and getting to spend my days with young children, but things aren’t always perfect and sunshiny (which I have had a surprisingly hard time coming to terms with; it seems that my idealized mental picture of what teaching looks like isn’t entirely true – imagine that!).
There are days that, like the quote says, are amazing! Everything goes smoothly, the students are lovely and full of smiles and you feel on top of the world, like you can do no wrong. The students are on-task and engaged, your lessons are well planned and go smoothly, a student gives you an extra hug, a challenging student has a fantastic day… You think, “Yes! THIS right here is why I became a teacher. I love my job!”
And, like yin and yang, there are always going to be some awful* days or moments to balance out those amazing ones. Maybe a student that you’ve been putting your all into has a huge backslide after weeks of effort and progress. Maybe you realize, a few lessons deep into a unit on Numbers, that you didn’t start with teaching the students how to form their numbers (face palm). Maybe your whole day feels like a huge lump of wasted time trying to wade through heaps of ski pants, and toques, and random missing mittens. Maybe you don’t have a lesson planned and end up pulling something out of thin air and then feeling guilty for being so disorganized (I know, I know, my new teacher complex and OCD are showing. Seriously, who has a formal lesson planned for EVERY class ALL THE TIME? If that’s you, I bow down.) Maybe, at the end of the day, you regret a decision you made or you wish you had handled something differently. Maybe I’m talking from experience? We’ll never know (ha). The point is, sometimes teaching wears you down, chews you up, and spits you out. The important thing is that, even at the end of the worst day imaginable, you think, “Yes, THIS right here is why I became a teacher. So I can learn and grow every day. Tomorrow will be better.”
*Note: Keep in mind that, to your eyes, the day may have seemed awful when, in reality, it was merely just average. Teachers are funny little creatures who are often perfectionists and far too self-critical. It can be very deceiving when you are only looking at the day through your own lens. At times like this, I encourage you to get a pep talk from a mentor, loved one, colleague, or friend. They will tell you that you are, in fact, doing MORE than enough and they can probably help to convince you that things weren’t so awful after all, or perhaps that the awful can be blotted out in the future.
Finally, we come to the average day. The everyday, run of the mill, go through the motions, put yourself on autopilot days where nothing goes momentously wrong but nothing goes awe-inspiringly right, either. As a chronic optimistic, I have a hard time accepting these average days. Something in my greedy little brain wants awesome, fantastic, super-dee-dooper days every day – THANKS A LOT, BRAIN! That is a lot to live up to. It’s a great goal to aspire to but, sadly, not all that realistic. I have to work on giving myself permission to have an average day and not feeling bad about it. If every day was amazing, then amazing would become average (wow, I just dropped a wisdom bomb on myself there). And, to be perfectly honest (and biased), teacher average IS amazing.
Transitioning to a bit more informal chat here, this whole philosophical, soppy rambling DOES stem from something. Lately, I feel like I’ve had an endless string of average days, with mixed in amazing and awful moments. After getting praise or a ‘job well done,’ I end up feeling worse because I think, “I don’t feel like I’m doing the best job I can. I could be doing more.” In a way, that is good because I am expecting more out of myself. But on the other hand, that can start to drive a person crazy. In the teaching profession, there will always be something more you could do, something you could improve, something you wish you would have done. Internship has been such a journey for me accepting the fact that my teacher self IS NOT and WILL NEVER BE perfect. And THAT IS OKAY. Actually, it’s more than okay; it’s wonderful because it means that even 20 years down the road, I will still be growing and learning in this profession. Granted, I’m still working on accepting all of that (it’s a lot for a perfectionist to swallow, all right?).
My point is, teachers are so amazing and dedicated and passionate. But they sometimes forget to give themselves the credit that they deserve. We do so many amazing things in our classrooms every day that we get used to it and forget. Then we end up feeling that we are only average, when, really, we are and have always been amazing.
To any of my fellow interns or teachers: 90% of what we see on social media and hear from our colleagues is success stories. I see so many posts on Facebook about how wonderful things are going or a cool activity that a peer did (and that’s great – I celebrate alongside all of the other teachers out there who are doing an exceptional job). But I think we also need to share when we are having a tough time, or struggling with something. It is freeing to admit that things aren’t always peachy keen, and it helps to affirm to others that, if they are experiencing the same thing, there is someone out there who is in the same boat. So if anyone reading this is also having a string of average days or feeling that, despite all of your best efforts, you can’t reach a student who needs you, or whatever else may be dragging your spirits down, know that I am with you. And know that others out there are with you too.
Accept your struggles. Learn from them. Think of 3 things you do EVERY day that are amazing (I guarantee you, there are more than three). And get ready for all of the amazing that is headed your way in the near future.
Cheers and wishes for amazing teaching,
P.S. Sorry for the long and fluffy post. If you made it this far, THANK YOU. I hope you got something half-worthwhile out of this. And if not, that’s okay too because this was really more of a self pep talk. I came into this post feeling a bit down and disappointed and have now amped myself up to finish the week strong with an AMAZING day tomorrow. As my teacher self would say: “Pat yourself on the back and say ‘Good job me!'”.