Progress. It’s a human need, according to more than a few gurus’ lists. We have a need to feel that we are making progress our lives.
It’s probably why I bristle whenever a former student asks me if I am “still” teaching. I feel a stab of shame. Shame, even though my primary identity – in my own eyes – is not as a high school teacher. If there are days when I feel that I’m running with my forehead against a wall, it is generally not because of my day job.
I love my job. The doing of it. I am lucky enough to experience “flow” in the classroom. Often.
But I’m near to burning out now. It’s not the students, but the well-intended pressure from the administration (although, lately, in a rather Orwellian turn, we’re asked to call them “leaders”, not “administrators”). While I admit that I’m not a great teacher: there have been students who graduated convinced I’m a terrible person for one reason or another. But I do learn from my mistakes. I am a good teacher, and I know there is “always room for improvement”.
Some days I wonder though, if I worked at a fish factory, would I have to spend part of my work day analysing my performance, making a prognosis for my potential, developing and implementing a system for improvement? A new one every few months? A new area for critique, while I’m still sorting through the jargon applied to the last one, figuring out what it means in terms of real being-in-the-world behaviours on my part.
Is this a privilege of having a job with a greater amount of self-determination? This continual task of finding room for improvement?
To be honest: I find myself in that room all the time. I stumble into it every day. I beat myself up for it – before I have to take it to the workplace confessional. Generally, I’m dealing with my secret shortcomings in one area, while someone is asking me to identify and address my shortcomings in another. I carry a lot of shame back and forth from the classroom to the meeting room.
In regard to my job, I’m not having to aim on my own – the wall is hitting me.
There are other areas of focus in my life in which I aim for progress, too: Parenting. Fitness. Mental health. Writing. Publishing. Friendship. Partnership. I’m still doing all of those things, too. Still making prognoses in terms of my potential. Aiming. Striving. Sometimes running with my forehead against the wall.
Would it be okay if I just took a couple days to stand still and breathe? Is it possible to find a room that doesn’t have a nagging space for improvement, and to be there, for just a moment or two?
One of the funniest people I know, who also happens to be a former student, suggested that the next time someone asks me if I’m still teaching, I should tell them, “Yes. But I’m wearing new shoes.”
I haven’t mentioned that there is plenty of room for improvement when it comes to my fashion sense, as well.