Wednesday, July 14, 2010


For whatever reason, I have worked for perfection my entire life. I used to worry that I had a problem with obsessive compulsive disorder when I would have to restart an assignment because of a misspelled word or create a calendar that is perfectly color-coded. Like living in an alternate reality, I was able to observe my obsession with perfection from the outside, but still felt compelled to achieve more, do better, and make neater.

I am a perfectionist in many areas of my life; socially, emotionally, and spiritually. However, this particular feature of my personality presents itself most in academic discipline. In second grade I quite literally cried because I was worried about admission to college after getting a "2" on a report card. My parents constantly encouraged me to relax; my mom told me that the best thing for me would be to get a "B" in a high school class. This preoccupation continued throughout college: the one "A-" I got in an Honors biology course occupied my thoughts for weeks. And now I am a teacher. And teaching, my friends, is not about perfection.

Teaching is about trying to succeed and being disappointed. It is about knowing one self and using experience to create a classroom of warmth and depth. It is about connecting with students and loving people. Teaching is about the brightness that shines from each child and the joy they exude. It is about pouring hours into a lesson plan and watching it disintegrate in five minutes. It is about spending time and money and energy for students who may never realize what you do. Teaching is about writing "Friday Fuzzies" and encouraging potential and communicating about life. It is about being exhausted and drained of energy and being excited about going to work in the morning. It is about being "on" at all moments, and completely preoccupied with a group of little friends and their every wish and hope and dream. Teaching is about calling students to become their best selves, their most creative selves, their most beautiful selves. It is about sharing truth and communicating love. It is about imparting knowledge that extends beyond the classroom and infects the soul. Teaching is about knowing content and strategies and techniques, and integrating them into life and lessons in a meaningful way. And in a unique and not at all depressing way, teaching is about failure.

So the part of me that strives for perfection must tempered in the classroom. Because as much as I want to be the best teacher, I recognize that the little voice spurring me on to do better is not helping. Teaching is both an art and a science, and I have already learned the technical. Perfecting an art, though, is not achievable. Sure, it will become more and more comfortable and easier to teach sharp and important lessons. Of course the quality of my planning and techniques and strategies will improve with time. But the spontaneous moments in the classroom will never change. There will always be something to invade my airtight lesson plan and force adaptation. And therein lies the beauty in teaching. Unlike other areas of my life with such tremendous pressure, it is impossible to be perfect.

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