When I was in teacher’s college, a speaker told us that to be the best teacher, we had to settle for mediocrity. Sounds terrible, right?
The thing about teaching is that, let’s be honest, there will never be a perfect teacher. There will always be something to improve on, whether it be classroom management, understanding of special needs, assessments, assignments, teaching methods, interpersonal relationships… the list goes on. Hence the term lifelong learner: there’s always something to learn and improve.
When faced with over a hundred students every day, though, all of whom have their own needs, strengths, weaknesses, aspirations, and all, it’s impossible to be a perfect teacher for every one of them. Add onto that keeping up school policy, incorporating character-building into your lessons, staying on top of marking, and the other myriad components of the teaching job, and it’s easy to feel discouraged.
This is the understanding I held in teaching, and I find this relevant to my non-teacher life as well. (I’d venture to say that these ideas are really applicable to any job, but I don’t know enough to say so, so I wouldn’t). At any rate, I could be shopping better, ensuring my family gets top-notch nutrition while supporting local businesses and still spending my dollars wisely; I could be playing better, ensuring the toddler is developing gross motor, fine motor, senses, practical life skills, and stretching her potential (as if I know what that even really entails); I could be housekeeping better, colour coordination and clear aesthetics everywhere; I could be loving better, keeping all my relationships feeling loved and appreciated; the list goes on.
But here’s the thing. The speaker, an experienced teacher and teacher educator himself, encouraged mediocrity because without it, burning out fast and hard would be the reality. “A mediocre teacher,” he explained, “would get all aspects of the job done well enough. Good enough. They wouldn’t be amazing. But they’d get the job done.” Then he clarified, because I remember the horrified silence that had settled over the room of hopeful teacher candidates. “Be a mediocre teacher in all areas but one. And in that one area, seek to be amazing.”
His reasoning was that, given time, someone who focused on just one thing would master it, then giving them room to move onto another aspect of teaching. And given time, a person would naturally improve in other aspects as well. Practice pushes us towards perfection, after all. For the four years I was a classroom teacher, the approach worked. I focused on student relationships and was happy enough about it that I began focusing on projects/assessments.
I take this trip down memory lane because I realize my approach towards teaching is still very much my approach towards life, only I am realizing that it’s okay for me to be just good enough. It’s okay to be just okay at things. This admission took a long time for me to make for myself, but I’m thankful to everyone who listened along the way, and to God who is gracious enough to help our hearts change.