I can still picture driving through the woods of Maine a few years back and writing a blog post in my head called “Why ‘the Best?' Will Good do Instead?“
I still stand by the sentiments of that article. Trying to be the best teacher — in your school, state, country — is, in my experience and observations of others, spiritually and professionally toxic.
However, I was recently struck by this thought from poet Donald Hall:
“I see no reason to spend your life writing poems unless your goal is to write great poems… If our goal is to write poetry, the only way we are likely to be any good is to try to be as great as the best.”
It's that last phrase I find a magnificent addition to my philosophy: as great as the best. I think aiming at this in your teaching practice is brilliant.
First of all, “the best” in that line can connote a group of people rather than just one person. If you're an English teacher, this is a group of folks like Jim Burke, Matt Kay, Penny Kittle, Carol Jago, Jen Fletcher, Matthew Johnson, Ariel Sacks, Kelly Gallagher.
Second, I like the use of the word great because to be great in education, to me, means lasting. “Longevity is its own form of greatness.” In that list of folks above, the most inexperienced people are fifteen or more years into their careers; altogether, that list represents a century of work in real classrooms. In education, that is greatness. Performance over time.
So today, colleague, here's a question set for you:
- Who would you say belongs to that group — GROUP! — of “the best” in your building?
- What would it look like to take a small step today toward a bit more of their greatness?
- And what would it look like to take the step peacefully, non-strivingly — not to prove yourself to anyone or earn anything, but just for love of the game of teaching?
Have a great day growing,
Laura Hopkins says
Dave, your message is timely as I reflect on my career of 29 years teaching middle school and think that’s a long time to fine tune my game! And I have done just that. I work hard to make engaging lessons, to give timely feedback, to share ideas and help colleagues. Yet, I have also placed boundaries around my work hours to protect my health and perspective. Longevity is definitely a form of greatness when I consider the relationships I’ve built within my profession. Here’s to all the great teachers who continue to make education great!