I’ve never really left school. Well, that’s not exactly true. I did take a gap year between college and earning my teaching credential. And then there was that one year after Cameron was born – the only year in the last 14 – that I haven’t stood in front of 13-year-olds on a first day of school. I’ve changed the ways I teach the first day over the years, moving from teacher directed bore-them-to-tears rants about rules and procedures towards student centered get-them-writing-and talking activities.
So I find myself, the last evening of Labor Day weekend, home and going over the first of 52 weeks of grading. Only three official days in, and nothing has really changed. I still got the first day jitters, I still spent the weekend in my classroom preparing lessons, and I still wonder how I’ll make this year better than the last. I strive for something close to perfection.
As I was skimming over their freshly written ‘author pages’, one question and response kept jumping out at me: a far too overwhelming number said their one goal for this year was to get straight As.
They’re 13 years old at best. They want to be perfect. Boys and girls – no difference there. And I sit here, taking in the enormity of their request, and wonder – is that what THEY really want?
And this time, after teaching 23 years of 7th, 8th and 9th graders, I just stopped and sighed, and I realized that if this was what my kids were expecting, I might be the very person to keep them from reaching their goals. I just cannot imagine a world where everyone is perfect.
And it made me think about my own kids, my own life, and how as I move closer and closer to my fifth decade of living, how this idea of perfection has ridden copilot with me for a great long part of my life, too.
For me, the rhythm of the academic year has always been the back beat to my life. New Year’s Resolutions haven’t had much impact; for me, it’s the autumnal resolutions that make most sense. This autumn, I’m back at it. What do I really want from this year? What will make my heart shine, my spirit ignite, and in June, what will I feel I’ve done that made a difference?
It’s most certainly not about personal perfection for me. That quest was left behind in the last decade – no sense in revisiting that now.
It’s taken me a few days to write this, mainly, I think, due to that idea of how to simultaneously push kids towards their future while teaching them that life is oh, so much more than a quest for an “A”. How do I show them that it’s so much more about the experiences along the way, the knowledge they soak up as they read and write and talk and think…how do I teach them to WANT it? The idea that learning and success take grit, that no matter what comment I write on their essay, or what grade they earn on a test, that learning doesn’t end at the bell, that every day is ‘to be continued’ and all we can do is our best. How can I show them that really the only goal I have for them this year is that they walk out the door in June feeling that they are stronger, more confident, thinking deeper and just a touch more articulate than they were when they walked in last week?
My autumnal resolutions. I’ve got some work to do, and not just in the classroom.
What about you, dear reader? What is your autumnal resolution? Are you on the perfection quest, too?
My Inner ChickSeptember 14, 2014
I can imagine you are one of those teachers who students remember.
This is rare & lovely.
Perfection is boring. It is the flaws and imperfections that interest me.
It is the evolving and journey that makes me want more.
I do not strive for perfection. I strive for truth.
What you are teaching are LIFE LESSONS. Believe me, these students will never forget that.
Jennifer WolfeSeptember 14, 2014
Thank you, Kim. I know sometimes – oftentimes – students get frustrated with my high expectations for them…but I know, as do you, that the life lessons are the most important. Imperfections interest me more, too…they’re the fodder for my stories! xxoo
Kathy RadiganSeptember 8, 2014
I love that you are teaching your students that there is more than getting an A, more to life and education than perfection. I fear that our system of learning is set up to get the grade and not to learn!! Your students are so lucky to have you as their teacher!!!! xoxReply
Jennifer WolfeSeptember 8, 2014
Thanks, Kathy. The direction our education system is going in really worries me – all the way from kinder to college. I believe in public ed, but this goal of perfection is scary…kids think it’s the only way to college, and stress about it from such an early age. I hope we can make a shift and help our kids value learning as the goal, not the grade.