All during the month of March on my social media channels, the focus was on #makeitpersonal, a campaign I decided to start after an experience I had with my daughter and her school. The focus was on seeing that every child feels safe, comfortable, accepted and welcome in the classroom. As March comes to a close, I couldn’t help but think about how this applies to teachers as well. Yes, it is important to build community, see students as individuals, but what about the teachers? They are an important part of the school equations, and we have to build school community among staff and also within the broader teacher community itself. It is so important for teachers to build each other up, help each other out, support and be there for each other. We cannot fall into the trap of comparison.
My friend Rachel Perry has an amazing podcast called Making the Leap, and when I heard her episode about comparison being the thief of all joy, I couldn’t help but relate it to teachers, and new teachers especially. Rachel shared a story of being newly married and wanting children right away, then feeling very upset and jealous when she would get Christmas cards from other friends who had already started their families. She talked about feeling inferior and referenced the famous quote from Eleanor Roosevelt about the fact that no one can make us feel inferior without our permission. This is so true.
WE are the ones who decide that whatever it is that they have (and we don’t) makes us inferior—no one else can do that. If you focus on what they have (and you don’t), nothing good can come from that because it begets negative energy and then you get stuck in that negative space. She reminded us that we need to focus on our story and our truth and where it is that we are going. This spoke to me so much, I am surprised I didn’t wreck my car!! (I was listening as I was driving to work).
When I first started teaching, over 25 years ago, there was no social media, but there was a Sue Strauman, a Debi Cunningham, and a Phyllis Pederson. Now, if you don’t teach where I teach, those names might not ring a bell, but if you do; well, then, you know EXACTLY who I am talking about. Sue, Debi, and Phyllis were the respective “rock star” teachers in the three buildings I taught in. You know the ones—the teacher everybody wants, that have gorgeous classrooms, cool learning experiences, and killer class management skills. If I had allowed myself to compare where I was when I met each of them, I would always feel defeated and unworthy. But if I learn from them, and glean all the golden nuggets of education that I can from their experience, then that is a different story.
And, now you, my dear early career educator who is just within those first few years of teaching, you have so much more pressure—you have your school’s rock star (every school has one) but also all the teacher social media communities hurling hundreds (if not thousands) of new, beautiful images and stories every day. All I have to do is open Instagram and I can feel this. I have taught for over twenty- five years and have more than a few tricks up my sleeve, but I don’t have to get very deep in my newsfeed before I see teachers that are seemingly teaching circles around me. There again, our mindset comes into play. If we look at it from the perspective of “Oh wow, they are so amazing… why didn’t I come up with that lesson, decorate that space, design that cool resource, (fill in the blank with a dozen other possible things),” we will always come up short. However, if we flip the switch and think, “That’s a great idea. I could make (this tweak) or (that change) and it could really help me with (whatever classroom issue it addresses),” we go from negative comparison energy to positive growth energy. We have to use what we see on social media and our own colleagues as advisors not benchmarks for where we should be at that moment. Don’t try to make someone’s else’s story your story, because all too often we are comparing our beginning to someone else’s middle or even final chapters. Because here is the thing, no matter how much we admire and try to emulate someone else, our story will never be the exact same because we have different behavior issues, curriculum challenges, and administrative mandates so comparison is futile. Learn, ask for advice, observe, or in the case of social media, follow, comment, post questions, but don’t ever compare. As the saying goes, “You do you, boo.”