“I am struck by how sharing our weakness and difficulties is more nourishing to others than sharing our qualities and successes.” ― Jean Vanier
I still remember the expectations during our teaching practicums: handouts and materials out on desks BEFORE students arrive, every minute of the class accounted for, a hook, a review, and don’t waste any time.
The deal with school seemed to be: perfect-everything.
When I didn’t accomplish it ALL, well you know…I felt like I had failed. I wasn’t perfect, at everything. Somehow, my shortcomings managed to overshadow my successes. Somewhere in my brain, I had the belief that I should be perfect at EVERYTHING. I was supposed to be all these things, all the time. When expectations were given, then the object was to be good at ALL of them. If you were a “good teacher” then you were supposed to be perfect at all the teacher-y things is how my faulty logic went. As an extension, I believed my ability or inability to be perfect at everything, somehow correlated to my student’s ability to be perfect. I had warped thoughts like: oh, look at that teacher, she is so neat and organized, I bet her students will do better! I thought the object of school was to be perfect at everything, do everything expected without question, and live up to ALL the expectations.
In my mind, the deal with school was: perfect-everything.
Years go by.
One day in class, I notice the look in her eyes. She is sitting in the second row and I see that she, too, is trying to be perfect. She doesn’t want her mistakes and shortcomings to be noticed. She is focused on being the person she thinks she is supposed to be; the person she thinks school and teachers want her to be. The uncertainty I see in her eyes haunt and pull at me (and have for many years). Her eyes say: if I get perfect grades, do my assignments perfectly, and ask clarifying questions, then I will be perfect, right? Then, will you think I am perfect?
In her mind, that is the deal with school: perfect-everything.
When I see her again in grade 12, she doesn’t look up. She keeps her head down and avoids eye contact. When I try to engage her, she is distant and vague. She isn’t trying to be perfect any more. She isn’t even there anymore.
Finally, she shares that the 11 years of trying to be perfect-everything have caught up, and she can’t do it anymore. There is no joy in the perfect marks anymore, in being the perfect student, and in being who she thinks she is supposed to be. Exhausted and conflicted, she has hollowed out.
Who am I, she wonders, if I am not the person who makes everyone happy? If I am not the perfect-everything girl…then, who am I?
Is perfect-everything the deal with life, too?
Years go by.
We begin to move away from letter grades. We start to write and use student friendly learning targets. New scales, that remove numbers and use strength based language, become popular. Self-assessment and student portfolios are more widely embraced. These are solid and concrete steps, no doubt. But will they shine a light for each child, on their specific and unique strengths?
Have we given the design of meaningful learning experiences, the same focus and priority? What comes first: the checklist of competencies or knowing what you might check? It is a chicken and egg question. Regardless of phrasing, a person who is sensitive to external suggestions, will always remain so. Identity creation can quickly slip into role fabrication, if we don’t yet know who you are.
Can the deal with school be, that we figure out who we are, in school, not after?
When I see her again she is 28, married with 2 youngchildren. She looks me in the eye. No uncertainty. After high school, she traveled. Nothing exotic or far-flung, but along the way she figured out who she was.
Finally, time and space, allowed her to know who she WAS supposed to be. But this time, from the inside out.
“We now understand that higher-level thinking is more likely to occur in the brain of a student who is emotionally secure than in the brain of a student who is scared, upset, anxious, or stressed.” ― Mawhinney and Sagan