Thursday, May 26, 2016

The one phrase that great teachers say

This time of the year, I’m involved in conversations with teachers about their year -- either informally as they share their reflections with me or in end-of-year evaluation meetings where we formally discuss their goals, progress, reflections, and next steps. I recently had two conversations with teachers that  were on opposite ends of the spectrum, and I could relate to both of them. 

One teacher that I talked with made a comment about “certain” students. He was talking about kids who don’t “do” school well. They’re the kids who don’t like to sit still, are unorganized, lacking in self-discipline, or struggle with learning, just to name a few characteristics. In this same conversation, he made comparisons to other teachers. About his schedule. About their schedule. About the kids he taught. 

I could relate because I had done the same thing.

Early in my career (20 years ago), after teaching for 4 years, I questioned whether or not I was “supposed to be” in education. At the time, I compared myself to other teachers in the building. I didn’t like a system where other teachers got paid more than me simply because they had been in education longer than I. I compared how hard I worked to how hard they worked, and I found it unfair that they had a higher salary that was based solely on number of years working as an educator.

So I left education for two years, owned a business with my husband, during which time I learned, thank goodness, that my calling is to be in education.

Another teacher I recently met with had a different outlook; it’s one that I embrace now. 

The other teacher was talking about the students he teaches, the kids who don’t “do” school well. They’re the kids who don’t like to sit still, are unorganized, lacking in self-discipline, or struggle with learning, just to name a few characteristics. He said, “I think that this is maybe my niche. It’s where I’m supposed to be. I could ask ‘Why me?’ but I ask, ‘Why NOT me?’”

The second teacher is at the opposite end of the spectrum. He’s not comparing himself with others. He asking if he is living fully in his gifts. He is thinking about how he can do his best in the role he is in. 

This point of view is what I choose for myself, too. My life is about how I can be the best I can be so that I can help others to be their best. It’s a mindset and a choice to have “Why not me?” outlook, and it’s one that anyone can have, but it will take some more practice than others. 

Here are 3 ways to deal with envy and create a “Why not me?” attitude.

1. Practice gratitude. Create time to simply be thankful. Whether it’s the first thing in the morning, just before you go to bed, or even on your lunch hour or daily run, consciously list all the things you are grateful for. 

2. Be aware of thoughts of comparison, and repeat a phrase or affirmation over and over until the thoughts of comparison are gone. Sample phrases are, “I am thankful for my gifts of ________ and I will use them to be the best _________ that I can be.” or “The only person I compare myself to is the me that I was yesterday. I am always getting better.”

3. Be honest with yourself about your feelings. Do the feelings of envy/comparison stem from insecurities? Are you concerned with being overlooked or taken advantage of? Are you fearful that your best isn’t enough? Once you determine the source of your desire to compare, work on facing those specific feelings.

Do you ask “Why me?” or “Why not me?”
How do you keep an attitude of “Why not me?”

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  1. I'm grateful that being steeped in my profession August through May allows an annual check up, like you described, along with time to plan the change I want to be the following year. Other industries may criticize our schedule, but why not embrace the time for reflection it affords? I appreciate your post pushing me towards that!

  2. Amber, thank you for reading and commenting. I, too, love that we have a time (summer) where we can reflect on the year and make changes for the next. We all need to be asking, "Why not me?" as we reflect. Thanks again for your feedback.

  3. Thanks for this blog post Jennifer! Education should not be a competition as to who is the best teacher because then we spend all of our time comparing ourselves to others in the field. We should always be focusing on energy on what is best for kids. Sounds like you have a teacher with a growth mindset that wants to continue to move forward in their teaching capabilities.

    Thanks for always pushing me and others forward with your thinking and your words! I am grateful to have such a thoughtful and inspiring educator in my PLN!

  4. Thank you so much for posting this. I can absolutely relate to everything you said. I am inspired by your leadership and love the three tips of maintaining a "why not me" attitude. It's all about perspective. We are in control of our products (students) whether we like it are not. Thank you for the charge!!!