Last year I worked with three high school science student teachers who were hard working, disciplined, and focused. As with most student teachers they often became overwhelmed with planning their lessons, grading papers, and figuring out how to manage student behavior. When you are student teaching it is very difficult to figure out how to manage your time and be effective with your students. You can spend hours creating a lab or a worksheet because you want to try something new for the next day. Or spend days trying to get through the grading of projects because you didn’t think about how you could efficiently grade them before you assigned it to 130 of your students.
No matter what difficulties student teachers encounter, I think they all struggle with wanting to find a way to engage their students and help them learn. There is so much to consider when you are new to the classroom. What are you going to teach tomorrow? How are you going to teach it? How are you going to take attendance? How are you going to pass out and collect papers? When are you going to test? Are you going to ask students to raise their hands or let them speak out on their own? How are you going to handle students who aren’t listening or are off-task? What work are you going to count for a grade? How are you going to grade it? How much is each question going to be worth? The list goes on and on. There are so many decisions to be made and you never want to make a mistake.
In our student teaching seminar the answers to these questions were often the focus of our discussions. The student teachers were frequently consumed with doing things right and wanting to be perfect. Dr. Mintz, the professor for the course, made a wonderfully simple, but profound statement in response to one student teacher saying she wanted her lesson to be perfect. Dr. Mintz said, “Perfection is a ridiculous goal.” This simple truth became a theme in our conversations for the rest of the semester. There is no sense in trying to be perfect – we should strive for excellence, but perfection is a ridiculous goal because it will never come, especially in teaching. Teaching is a journey – you are never done becoming a teacher. Your students will change, or your textbook, or the courses you teach, and you’ll be back at square one trying to figure out what works or how you can make it better. This quote became such a part of our discussions that I painted canvases for each of the student teachers to take with them when they graduated.
I hope this quote helped my student teachers. I know it would have helped me in my student teaching and first few years of teaching. Growing up, for whatever reason, I expected myself to be perfect. It wasn’t my parents - they continuously told me to get B’s – but something made me feel like I had to be perfect, whether it was getting straight A’s, making the varsity team, or writing the perfect lesson plan. Over the years and through some very painful lessons, I learned I would never be perfect. I could strive for excellence, but perfection would never come. I think for this reason, this quote has become somewhat of a mantra in my own life. The world would like to convince us that there is a perfect body, a perfect friend, a perfect house, a perfect car, a perfect meal, a perfect outfit, a perfect job out there. The truth is, there is nothing perfect out there except God and His love. Nothing else. His love is perfect – it never fails, never gives up, it never runs out, and it never ends. And something about recognizing that perfection, for me, on this Earth, is a ridiculous goal is a freeing, liberating notion and a wonderful reminder that I don’t have to be perfect because Christ has already done it for me. He perfects me and nothing else. Any work I do to be perfect on my own will fail. So whether it is teaching, cooking dinner for friends, or keeping the house clean, I now frequently remind myself that perfection is a ridiculous goal.