Tony Jones, Mahomet, IL firstname.lastname@example.org
I recall as a young teacher feeling very inadequate when I would compare myself to other teachers to see if I measured up (what psychologists call Social Comparison Theory). I am not sure as a veteran teacher that I have overcome that feeling all that much. I see some of the great things others are doing and immediately feel the pressure to do something equally worthy. Often, it would cause me to attempt to emulate their ideas (even using the exact lesson) in hopes that it would magically transform my classroom. Sometimes it worked, though more often than not it did not work. And when it didn’t, I felt like a failure.
It was even worse after attending a conference where incredibly gifted leaders and teachers shared some of their great ideas. I could not wait to get back to my classroom and implement these new ideas. And, despite taking detailed notes and fleshing out the ideas, the borrowed activity never seemed to have the impact I had hoped for. Once again, I felt like a failure.
Recently I came across a video on Twitter in which a teacher had transformed her classroom into a “Hogwarts School.” It was AWESOME! It was near Hollywood perfect in its final product. It would be the envy of any teacher. But, as I read the thread of responses, I noticed something that made me pay more attention. Beyond the multitude of positive comments and approval, there were also comments about how much pressure some teachers, particularly young teachers, might feel when seeing this. Many teachers may feel inadequate when comparing their classroom to something like this. And this may cause many of them to feel the pressure to create the same type of environment in their own classroom. The problem is that the ability to create a classroom like this one is nearly impossible for most of us, whether that is due to money, time, or the artistic ability needed to create some of the things that were present.
Don’t get me wrong. I would have LOVED to be in that classroom. It was warm and inviting. It was straight-out-of-Hollywood, showroom-worthy perfect. And it was so aesthetically pleasing. I applaud the teacher for being incredibly creative and amazingly artistic. But, given my artistic abilities (or lack thereof), I would have never been able to create anything near that.
Yet, in our day of the perfect Facebook family life, the Instagram influencers, the transformative viral YouTube video, the incredibly poignant Ted Talk, and the unspoken mandate to engage every student, perhaps we have unwittingly made some teachers (most teachers?) feel very inadequate.
I believe that teaching is far more art than science. Our students have so many different personalities and they have a wide range of life experiences. There are so many needs to meet in the classroom, needs that are not mentioned in the curriculum. And there are so many raw and unedited emotions that emerge from students (and teachers) on a daily basis.
While each day in your classroom should be planned, it can never truly be scripted. Students go off-script hundreds of times a day. Some of my best days have been when we have gone off-script. We need to see the students in our classrooms as people first and students second. The minute we do not is the minute we fail to connect with them in meaningful ways that can have lasting impact.
Please hear clearly that this is not to advocate for a dismissal of the curriculum nor the abdication of lesson planning. However, creating an environment where students feel safe, feel cared for, and connected is far more impactful than the perfect lesson plan. Creating this environment is not as much about how your classroom looks and how your class routines are implemented as it is about how students feel when they approach you in your classroom.
You do not have to keep up with the Joneses, live up to some unrealistic reality you have created in your mind, or create the best lesson plan of the 21st century. In other words, you do not need to try to be someone you are not because you see another teacher as the pinnacle of the profession. Help your students believe in themselves and help them bring out the best in themselves. You will do that best by being authentic — being the very best version of you for the students you teach.
So, a simple word of advice for you: you do you. Honor who you are, honor who your students are and be the best teacher you can be in your own situation and within your own context, comfortable in your own personality. In doing so, you will begin to have an impact on the success of the students in your classroom and truly make a difference in the lives of students.