Here are the things that I’m thinking about currently:
- If I had taught this book instead of that one, my students would have learned more.
- I taught too many plays and not enough novels.
- My class wasn’t difficult enough.
- My students didn’t learn anything this year (this thought reliably comes when I grade that last stack of academic essays.)
- No one really read the books I assigned.
- Should this be the year I spend my summer looking for something else to do?
I’d like to remember of all the things I did right, but in reality I’m very critical of myself, and therefore it’s always easier to prove that I’m not doing a good job instead of being convinced that I am.
The other problem that I have is that I tend to overfix things. If I feel like the year hasn’t been a complete success, then I must make drastic changes for the following year. At one point this year I was considering teaching four different books next year. I eventually came to realize that I can’t take on that much new material at once; it would not be in my or my students’ best interests.
We get a lot of feedback in education whether we like to or not. Of course we have grades and standardized tests to tell us how our students perform. But what means much more to us is the day to day interactions that we have with our classes. And every day we don’t know whether we will be affirmed, rejected, or greeted with indifference. Sometimes this can be painful.
It’s easy to focus on the negatives in the classroom. It’s easy to focus on the students who don’t do work instead of those who do, or dwell on the kids that make your day a living hell instead of those that are quite appreciative of your efforts.
I also am aware that by thinking this way I am making perfect the enemy of good. By trying to perfect my teaching, which is something I’ll never be able to do, I’m missing the opportunity to be good enough most of the time. And for someone that juggles a family and other interests, that’s about all you can ask for.
There’s another moment in the school year that tends to confirm that I did do good work. During the last week of school, the seniors hand out their senior pictures with a note on the back telling me how much they enjoyed my class and appreciated all that I’ve done for them. I keep those and look back on them at times that I’m feeling discouraged. I find that those written messages inspire me, and they remind me that those students only experienced that one year of instruction and don’t have the long view that I do. For them, they can’t look back and say; “I wish we had read a different novel.” For them, the year we had together is the only year we had together, each day the only such day we had.