Many teachers might have started off the new year with goals on what they could do to improve their teaching. That’s good, that’s how a great teacher evolves. But by this point in the year some of those goals might have fallen through the cracks, leaving you without energy and feeling down on yourself. “If only I stayed up later to work on the lesson”, “If only I were more patient”, “If only I could get through to them”… These negative dialogues are part of the process of self-judgment.
Teachers can be the worst culprits for self-judgment. At the core of the profession is the idea that teachers need to be selfless in order to help their students to the best of their abilities. In part this is true. There are few other professions where you arrive at work each day and become responsible for the formation, education, and future of 30 odd children. So when Harry struggles with reading, Kate is acting up again, and Joey just ate glue- teachers feel the omnipresence of the “I could be doing more” narrative. They feel stressed, they second-guess themselves and their abilities, and experience feelings of insecurity personally and professionally.
The system of public education is not set up for every student to do their best. As much as teachers might try, it is exceedingly difficult to give every student 100% of what they need. There will always be the sense that “I could be doing more”. We tell our students that grades are not a reflection of their self worth. Yet how many teachers judge themselves based on an administrator’s report, or the success of their students on a standardized test?
All this is not to say that teachers should stop striving to do better, but rather that they should recognize the difference between wanting to improve for the sake of furthering their knowledge as an educator, and self-judgment for perceived failure.
Don’t waste your day stuck in negative narratives of self-judgment. Step back and take a breath. Though your class might still be struggling with fractions, though Lou still asks when recess is every five minutes, and though your administrator walks in right as your carefully planned lesson falls apart- you are trying, you approach each day as a new opportunity, and that’s the best you can do.
“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense”. -Ralph Waldo Emerson