Stop trying to be the “perfect teacher” and just be yourself
Every fall I teach a differentiated instruction class at Canisius College for teachers who are pursuing their master’s degree in differentiation. I LOVE this class because they are my people: they get the need for differentiated instruction and differentiated behavior expectations, and they embrace the idea that every student really deserves their own educational plan. However, at some point in the semester, I have to have “the talk.”
“The talk” happens when one of my student’s lives goes off the rails. We begin each class with what I have dubbed a “coffee break” because every single student walks in with their caffeine fix to get them through a second shift of school, having already taught all day, and now getting to be with me for several hours. It’s informal, but it allows us to check-in with each other. Inevitably, after weeks of developing trust, someone’s had a tough day and bursts into tears.
At some point, the teacher who had a terrible-horrible-no good-very-bad-day says something like this, “I’m just not cut out for this. Everyone else is so calm. The teachers at my school are better than me.” Or, “My observation is going to be horrible. And of course, I’m right after Little Ms. Perfect.” This is when I interject with “the talk,” which I will share here, as I believe all of us are back to being those first-year teachers who question ourselves.
You’re all here because you believe that everyone deserves to be treated as an individual who is worthy and important. It doesn’t matter what talents and strengths, weaknesses and faults, our students bring to the table, we accept them, encourage them, and value them. You have to give yourself the same treatment. Sure, you might not be the teacher who has the best tech integration, or the Pinterest classroom, but you have the passions that you bring with you, your philosophies about the value of our students, and you do what is best for kiddos. Teddy Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” and that sentiment should be the mantra of our times. The perfect Facebook Family, the staged Instagram selfies, the calculated tweet—we are all guilty of trying to be perfect, but none of us will achieve it. Don’t let comparison steal your joy.
For all of us veteran yet new teachers out there, I’d add that you don’t have to have a Bitmoji Classroom, but it is totally cool if you do. You don’t have to do read alouds in your jammies, unless that’s you, which is awesome. You don’t have to be anyone but you, the teacher who does what’s best for your kiddos.
Amber Chandler is the coordinator of alternative education and interventions for Frontier Central School District in Hamburg, New York. She is a National Board Certified ELA teacher, the 2018 AMLE Educator of the Year, and a member of the AMLE Board of Trustees. Amber is author of The Flexible SEL Classroom: Practical Ways to Build Social Emotional Learning in Grades 4-8.
Published in AMLE Magazine, October 2020.