Overcoming the Need to Be the Perfect Teacher

By Shannon Anderson, author of Penelope Perfect: A Tale of Perfectionism Gone Wild

It’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling “less than” when we see posts of awesome classroom projects on social media and genius hacks teachers come up with on Pinterest. Top that off with being measured and compared by our standardized test scores, and we can wind up feeling the pressure to be perfect teachers.

I’ve had my own battles with perfectionism. As a kid constantly seeking approval, I was devasted if I didn’t receive all A’s. My bedroom, including my closet, desk drawers, and under my bed, was carefully organized. If I took on a new hobby, I researched thoroughly and followed every guideline to the extreme.

Although I credit this inclination for giving me the determination and grit I still have, it wasn’t healthy to always feel like I wasn’t good enough at something. I was described as “never satisfied” by family and friends. They told me I didn’t know how to relax.

Fortunately, as an adult, I have learned that I cannot control everything that happens, no matter how hard I try. I’ve also learned about having a growth mindset, which I embrace and teach in my classroom.

Overcoming the Need to Be the Perfect Teacher

Growth mindset is when you have the belief that you can grow from your trials and setbacks on your path to learning. This term was coined by researcher Carol Dweck. A growth mindset can help you succeed because you believe that with enough practice and time, you can learn how to do anything better.

In my classroom, we call mistakes “growth spurts” because we learn and grow from them. I also have a flip chart in my classroom for this. The top page says “Plan A.” If someone makes a mistake or there is an unexpected change in our schedule, we simply flip it to “Plan B.” This is a calming way to show kids that when things don’t go as we had hoped, it’s not a big deal. We just need to think of a different way.

Just as my students do, I set goals for myself. I try to find ways to improve the learning environment in my classroom and the instruction I give my students. It’s natural to be disappointed sometimes when a lesson doesn’t go well or the kids don’t do well on something we’ve taught. We just have to remember that we can make tweaks and give it another shot.
Whenever I mess up something in front of the kids, I call myself out on it. I’ll go over and flip the chart or just tell them that I’m having a growth spurt. When kids see that even the teacher isn’t perfect, it puts their minds at ease.

Overcoming the Need to Be the Perfect TeacherAs the teacher of the gifted and talented cluster of students for my grade level, I often see students who are a lot like I was. Whether the pressure to be perfect is self-imposed or comes from parents, it can cause stress and overwhelm. Modeling how to handle trials and teaching kids that we all learn in different ways and at different paces is so important. I tell kids that the saying “Practice makes perfect” isn’t true. No one is perfect. The real saying should be “Practice make progress.”

If we, as teachers, can in some small way get better every day, we are going to make a difference in our classrooms. We work hard to take care of our students, our lessons, and our families. We also have to take care of ourselves. Here are a few tips for you and your students:

  • Set realistic goals for improvement.
  • Learn from your mistakes.
  • Realize some skills take more time to learn than others.
  • Seek help when needed.
  • Take breaks.
  • Celebrate your successes.
  • Never give up.

When you take a look into other classrooms or talk to other teachers, you will likely find that other educators’ lessons and student grades are not perfect either. All teachers sometimes forget things, teach something the wrong way, or have a messy desk. These things just mean you are a real teacher, who tries your best.

So use those pins and posts to your advantage! Instead of using them as a measuring stick for your value as a teacher, use those ideas for your teaching tool belt or classroom décor. We are all just trying to make progress in some small way, every day.

Shannon AndersonShannon Anderson has her master’s degree in education and is currently a third-grade teacher, high ability coordinator, and presenter and a former first-grade teacher, adjunct professor, and literacy coach. She loves spending time with her family, playing with words, teaching kids and adults, running very early in the morning, traveling to new places, and eating ice cream. She also enjoys doing author visits and events. Shannon lives in Indiana with her husband Matt and their daughters Emily and Madison.

Free Spirit books by Shannon:

Penelope Perfect: A Tale of Perfectionism Gone WildCoasting Casey

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