Every year in June, the feelings of inadequacy resurface. Right now I'm tired, and quite frankly, lazy. I have given everything I have to give. And I'm never satisfied with what I've done throughout the year.
I didn't get to know my students' personalities well enough. I prioritized mutual respect, but not bonding and making personal connections. Those are not the same things. I was too serious and wasn't silly and fun enough. I was too snappy, too quick to pass judgment and get angry. I didn't finish the world history unit. I didn't do that money project. We didn't do reading logs, for the love of Pete, how did I neglect to have my kids write down the books they read in class?!
I think it's the end of the world. I am a failure! I should have my teaching license revoked.
I think it's not the end of the world. The year was a success! I will return in August refreshed and ready to make up for my shortcomings this year.
I think I might have schizophrenia. And I'm not the only one.
John Spencer (from the blog Musings of a Not-So-Master Teacher) has a few recent posts on this topic, including the beautifully introspective Self-Induced Teacher Guilt. But it's his post called End Well that really made me think about how I feel as the year comes to a close:
Yet, as I pack up the boxes in my classroom and prepare myself for another three weeks, I have a lingering sense of satisfaction mixed with guilt. I'm torn between enjoyment and feeling that I haven't done enough and that I don't know students well enough and that I took too many short cuts and that no one should ever engage in such a long run-on sentence when an English teacher might be reading this long-winded blog post. What does it mean to end well?Feelings of guilt and apprehension abound. So what to do with them? My first impression was that we should examine them the way we should examine all our other emotions: are they from the Lord, or from the enemy? Is the sadness stemming from conviction or condemnation?
But for me, I think the answer is BOTH.
I ignored the Holy Spirit's promptings many, many times, and took the easy way out, putting my own needs first. That's conviction. I will always have to fight the flesh and consciously work toward becoming others-centered: it's the process of sanctification. The good news is, I'm aware of how God's trying to change me. The even better news is, He's patient.
But there's also some condemnation. Really, Angela, you feel like a failure because you didn't teach the kids EVERY skill and concept you wanted to? Do you truly believe that's the measure of your success?
Hmm. I suppose not. But what IS the measure? Maybe, Did I do my best every day?
I hope not, because then I still failed. I DIDN'T give 100% every single day.
That CAN'T be the measure of finishing well, because in my heart, I know I didn't fail. I know that my life is a work in progress, and there is no failure as long as I'm still striving to become more Christ-like and perform my job in a way that brings God glory.
So maybe the real meaning of finishing well is, Did I ask God to help me do my best everyday? Did I look to Him for strength and wisdom? Did I grow closer to Him this year? Did I actively seek out ways to become less self-centered and more giving to my colleagues and students and families?
Yes, yes I did. Sooo...why doesn't that make me feel successful? Why don't I have that feeling of satisfaction from a job well done?
Probably because I could have done a better job. Quite frankly, we ALL could have.
Perhaps you can see how exhausting it's been to live with my brain recently.
After fruitlessly mulling over the question for awhile, I finally gave it over to the Lord and let Him show me the answer. And He did, Sunday morning in church. We were singing about the depth of God's love toward us, and I realized that from God's perspective, our success as teachers is all about our love walk. It is not about our test scores, and it's not even about what our students learn academically. From an eternal perspective, teaching my kids to identify a numerator and denominator is frankly irrelevant.
For me, finishing the year well is about this:
Did I disciple my students?
Did I show them love, and teach them how to be loving?
Did my passion for life shine through, and did I encourage students to follow their God-given passions?
Did I set my students on the paths they should go and instill in them the desire to grow and become more than who they currently are?
Did I model AND teach them perseverance, patience, kindness, and self-control?
Was my focus on teaching with intention--not perfectly at every moment, but as a whole, from the first day to the very last--did I keep sight of the ultimate prize, which is eternal?
I've noticed that when my focus is on the eternal purpose, the academic goals fall naturally into place. This is really radical stuff, I know. But...what if we weren't put in the classroom to teach the phases of the moon? What if we were put there to instill in students a wonder for creation, a curiosity to learn more about the world around them, a desire to be the most intelligent persons they can be and make positive contributions to society? Think about that. When the teacher focuses on instilling those qualities during a lesson, how can children NOT learn the phases of the moon?
The standards created by the department of education are laughable in comparison. And because the board of ed doesn't set the real goals, it doesn't measure the real goals, and it doesn't determine our real value as teachers.
The student achievement levels we see on paper can never be the true measure of finishing well, not when an on-grade-level student assaults a classmate in the hallway while a struggling reader develops and recognizes the importance of self-discipline. And how do any of those behaviors, attitudes, and skill levels tie into God's ultimate plan of salvation? How little does any of this matter when both souls are lost?
Clearly the race set before us is difficult to run, and we run it imperfectly. But it's not up to us as teachers to determine our measure of success. We plant some seeds, we water others, and the increase comes from the Lord.
Who, after all, is Apollos? And who is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building. (I Corinthians 3:5-9)
So it's not about ME at all, it's not about how well I did MY job. God has a greater plan, of which I am only a small part. My performance is not quantifiable by anyone in this physical plane. How easily I lose sight of that when I'm made to feel that my job, my salary, and my worth is based on test scores.
Finishing well. Did I? I realize now it's far too complex for me to judge, and I shouldn't trouble myself with principles so far beyond my realm of understanding. I'm going to try not to judge myself, and instead let God, whose ways are higher than my ways, determine how well I've accomplished His tasks. The burden is lifted off of me and carried by Jesus, who tells us, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30). What freedom we have in Christ. I don't have to measure my own success or worth, or figure out where I stand with Him. He is my identity and my source. I can...
Be confident of this, that He who has begun a good work in [me], will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Phillipians 1:6)
Wow, you're still here with me, reading to the end. Thanks. I hope my rambling thoughts make sense. And I hope they give you a bit of peace as your school year comes to a finish.