The Myth of the Perfect Teacher

I know this amazing teacher.

He has an energy and excitement for his work in the classroom and in the school that seems to come from an endless well of optimism and hope. It’s like he is some modern teacher-Jesus, dancing through school days and smoothly dishing out feedback and compliments. I wish I could take each of you to meet this guy and show you what I mean. He plans, questions, decides, engages, and seems to make every one of the minute decisions in a teacher day with intention and accuracy. He pushes when it is time to push, and pulls back to near anonymity when it is time to let go. There is an aura that follows him, and students enjoy his space. He talks about his work like a professor, and you would almost expect him to smoothly puff on his pipe in a PD as he Always makes the best jokes to his colleagues.

The energy around his whole persona is one of inspiration and transformation. Students and adults seem to get better just by meeting this guy. It’s almost sickening.  And if that is not enough, he does all this while looking kind of like Ryan Gosling. I want to add some snarky qualifier here to make that last line funnier, but I’m not sure how I could make Ryan Gosling sound any more attractive. That guy is smoke. And when I see the family pictures of he and Eva Mendes, my head just explodes from all the attractiveness.

This perfect teacher guy doesn’t actually exist though, he simply runs around in my head all day and reminds me of how I could be better. Although this guy in my head is kind of perfect in every situation, he is kind of an ass as well. He tells me at each turn that I could have taught that differently, or handled that with more grace, or noticed something more quickly. He tells me that my wrinkled khakis with pen stains near the pockets look ridiculous and that I should look more like Ryan Gosling.

He is just a myth; the perfect teacher that only exists in my head and bad hollywood movies. When I told Adam about him, he told me that my perfect teacher sounds a lot like Ron Clark. Then, he mumbled some expletive-filled rant to himself about elves. Adam has always hated that guy, which I think stems mostly from jealousy, but he will tell you it is because Ron Clark makes a goofy face when he dances.

My guess is that this guy or gal exists in some other teacher heads as well. He causes all kinds of anxiety and self-deprecation. He is a voice of doubt and negativity, and at my worst of times, he makes me want to give up.

He comes from a good place. There are these moments of near perfection that so many of us have in this profession. I have had near-perfect moments in the classroom, a time when all of the teacher gods line up the stars for a second and my class feels more in sync than a late 90s boy band. There are times in each day where I handle things with ease and experience. I feel like I made the best decision or handled a situation perfectly. I’m 10 years in to this job and I have learned some things that make these moments happen a lot more frequently, but that only contributes to the strength of that pesky little myth that occupies so much of my head.

The more I experience any kind of success in the profession, the stronger the feeling gets that I should be replicating that constantly. And the stronger the frustration becomes when I fall short.

I know this kind of thinking is unhelpful and mostly irrational. In fact, I could probably write an accompanying blog post about the deep humanity in this work and the ways that relationships contribute to the unpredictability of every day. Humanity, relationships and unpredictability are not the kind of words that make perfection seem realistic. They are words that chip away at any feeling we may have of control in our classroom, and open doors for challenges, rewards, and inevitably, mistakes.

It’s hard to be perfect when you’re dealing with people. Any reasonable person tells me that chasing perfection only leads to me being too hard on myself. However, I also think that having that annoying myth in my head has also helped me to get better over the years. It has helped me to realize that I have not, and will never, arrive at the perfection that our young people deserve. If I ever leave this job, it will be because I can’t get close enough to that vision. Or, maybe more likely, I notice that I have stopped progressing toward that vision.

The challenge for me is finding balance for the sake of my own mental health. I’m not sure how to keep those goals of perfection in my head, without allowing them to make me feel so imperfect that I step aside. I’ve not figured out how to tell perfect to stand aside so that we can celebrate better.

I wish I had some grand ending to this post. I wish I could tell you about a realization that has opened up doors to some new freedom or understanding. Instead, I just write this with the hope that acknowledging something harmful starts to help me deal with that thing in more helpful ways.

I can tell the perfect teacher to “eff off” every once in a while, and I can accept this imperfect guy in room 375.