In Praise of Lousy Teachers
Although our kids are early in their school career, I noticed an interesting phenomenon before the start of this school year- jockeying for the “best” teacher. I had no idea the amount of chatter and behind the scenes positioning that goes on among parents about who their child will get the next year. I tried to adopt an attitude of nonchalance, but honestly did breathe a sigh of relief when both kids got “good ones.” But this phenomenon extends far beyond just teachers- there is this insidious desire to ensure that your child has the best of whatever’s on offer.
I’m here to say, “Stop the madness!”
Remember when you were a kid and your Mom made you take the first cookie offered- you couldn’t dig through the plate to find the biggest or the one with the most chocolate chips? There’s a valuable lesson in there. It’s not to say in some Orwellian way, be satisfied with your lot in life, but rather that there are important lessons to be gained out of not having “the best” <insert your preferred noun here: teacher, coach, babysitter, principal, toy, equipment, computer, clothes- whatever>. Not to mention, the broken cookie really does taste JUST AS GOOD.
In fact, while we are praising “lousy” teachers, let’s praise lousy parents too. When I use the word lousy, I am being slightly misleading in an effort to make a point. Obviously, if a teacher is truly not qualified or not performing up to a district’s standards, that’s different. But a teacher who is just performing at the mid-point, who’s room doesn’t look like it came off “Classrooms of Pinterest” or who tries to maintain some semblance of work/life balance? They run the risk of not being one considered one of the “good” ones. But if your kid (or my kid) ends up with a middle of the pack teacher- we should probably rejoice!
Here’s why- if you always demand “the best” for your children, you are setting an impossible standard, one to which you too, will not measure up. We simply can’t be at our best all the time. Sometimes you are going to be a lousy parent- whether missing an important game or conference, making a dinner of canned chili and left over fried rice (last night), or how about just telling the kids you don’t feel like reading a book to them before bed? The Horror! Maybe you are just tired- I’ve heard that happens to parents.
Another important reason is that coping with adversity is a critical skill and building resilience is a process that a) takes a long time, and b) is difficult to measure. And yet, we all know how important resilience is in our adult lives. Jobs are hard, managers are crappy, relationships end, money is scarce, opportunities vanish. A teacher who isn’t half Mary Poppins/half Miss Honey doesn’t put your child on the road to destitution, he or she actually helps them flex & build important mental muscles that don’t show up on the report card.
Tough times DO happen over the course of your life and almost always the right answer is not going to be to drop what you are doing and walk away from it. On the rare occasion where that is the answer- it is a decision that requires great courage, and unlike The Boy Who Cried Wolf, you better be a careful shepherd of that precious resource.
In our home, we take a pretty pragmatic approach when “lousy” shows up in the kids lives. We have a strong bias towards “This too shall pass.” If it’s something more serious, we talk about the importance of getting along or continuing to learn despite whatever challenges the situation may present. But, we also haven’t really been tested yet.
It’s not like the physics teacher I had in high school, who regularly fell asleep in class or the born-again Christian biology teacher who refused to teach Evolution… I’m not sure what I would do if something that extreme presented itself. My reaction as a student was to get mad that they were standing between me and what I was supposed to learn. I’m sure I talked to my parents about both situations, but they didn’t march down to the school, they told me I had better make sure I was keeping my grades up to par.
There is no doubt that children learn far more from good teachers and good parents, but I think we should consider stopping there. You know what, good is good.
There is no doubt that children learn far more from good teachers and good parents, but I think we should consider stopping there. You know what, good is good. Being a good person, having a good life, having a good job. These were the things that the “greatest generation” strived for. They were great because they were good.
I might say it another way and here, I’m going to lean on some big brains- so I’m taking no credit. I was looking to attribute the quote, “Perfect is the Enemy of the Good.” when Wikipedia tossed a few heavyweights my way, to back up my line of thought. Aristotle, Confucius, Voltaire, and others wrote about the idea of the golden mean, which counsels against extremism in general, and further explores the idea that since perfection is likely impossible to achieve anyway, chasing it only leads to diminishing returns.
Now, before you say that undermines the entire idea of striving and achievement- hold up. Let’s remember who these guys were- not exactly slouches. If you apply this principle in your home, and your kid comes up to you at some point and says, “But Aristotle says I don’t have to be the best!” You just say, “Fine, keep up with Aristotle and we’ll call it good.”
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Posted on November 24, 2014, in Big Ideas and tagged aristotle, bill murray, confucius, golden mean, good enough, kids, parenting, parents, school, standards, students, teachers, the greatest generation, voltaire. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.