2020 marks my 28th year of teaching. Over the course of my career, I’ve had the privilege of working with over a thousand teachers across different school districts and universities. This post is for you.
In my assessment, you are some of the hardest working, dedicated individuals anyone would want to work with their son or daughter. I say that as a parent, as a taxpayer, and as your colleague. And I know that this pandemic is keeping you up at night. I feel your pain.
Like the vast majority of the teachers I’ve worked with, I know you are motivated to plan the perfect lesson, organize the perfect activity or create the perfect assessment. You’re people who come to school way before the school day starts to prep a laboratory. Or stay long after the school day is over to grade papers so your students get feedback the next day. You’re cut from the same cloth as Ms. K., who I saw disassemble and reassemble an entire set of exams because there was a typo of one of the pages. “Was it critical to the question?” I asked. “Not really,” Ms. K said. “I just didn’t want my students to see a mistake like that.”
Ms. K is your people.
Mr. B is your people, too. I was once working in a shared planning area when I heard an audible grown from across the room. When I looked over, I found Mr. B. with his head in his hands. “Are you okay?” I asked, worried that something serious had happened. “I just spent the last hour prepping a lesson for tomorrow and I thought of a better idea,” Mr. B explained. “I can’t do this lesson anymore.”
You’ve probably felt like Mr. B. I know that I have. Mr. B is our people.
To most readers, these stories probably sound a little out of the ordinary. But as a teacher, you know they’re not. It’s just how most of the teachers we know and work with roll. They’re focused on perfection. And this pandemic is throwing us all off our game.
Instead of expertly crafted lessons, we’re hastily moving lessons to learning management systems. We’re quickly searching for websites, recording videos and developing engagement activities. We’re in educational triage mode and we’re quickly trying to put lessons together that can help our students learn.
But then we hear those reflective questions that always force us to reexamine our work.
“Was that lesson perfect? Could I do it better?”
And in your heart, you know the answers. And it’s causing some of the existential dread you’re feeling.
This post is a plea for you to set those questions aside for now. Put them to rest. We can revisit them in a few months. Right now, I want you to focus on a few different questions.
“Was that lesson effective? Did my students learn?”
In the midst of the chaos of this pandemic, change your focus. Instead of perfection, work on being effective. Work on helping your students learn your content in a safe, supportive space. Focus on making your class the best part of their day. You always have. It’s more important now than ever.
And then, tend to your family. Care for your loved ones. And get some sleep.
Perfect is a topic for another day.