There are a ton of touchy-feely teacher movies out there. You know the ones where the “never-say-die” teacher overcomes complete adversity, both personal and professional, to drag a group of unwilling and resentful students kicking and screaming to success. These teachers receive accolades by the truckload, and are adored by every student, parent, administrator, and fellow faculty member. Their students go on to win the Nobel Prize for something, and always remember to thank that teacher in their acceptance speeches.
It is a beautiful theory. Life – real life – is not like that. Look at those movies. There is so much emphasis placed on complete success that we feel as if we fail if we are not up to that standard of perfection. We are imperfect people teaching imperfect students. Teaching is more like the movie “Summer School.” A far from perfect teacher is thrown in to a room with a collection of issues: a surfer girl who skips school, a pregnant student who is due at any time, a boy who can’t read, another who wants to get through life by brute force, and two more who want to make chainsaw movies – forget the growing up part. The directive is that all of the students should be able to pass a minimum competency test by the end of the summer. This teacher does something never before seen in the movies – he fails…an imperfect teacher. No heroics, no accolades, no Nobel Prize students. Imperfect people in an imperfect world.
That is reality. We make mistakes, we struggle, we fail. Even our best laid plans don’t always work – as teachers and as human beings. We succeed…sometimes, but those successes seem to be outweighed by what did not happen.
And in this same movie, the teacher does something remarkable. In the midst of failure, he points out to each student what their successes were. Each one did something right; something that they could find pride in having accomplished. Even though we all want success in the form of perfection the first time we do something, that is not going to happen. And we need to stop focusing on this idea of perfect. We need to stop putting that pressure on ourselves and others. Instead, we need to simply change our focus to what we did right and build on that.
That is a much happier reality