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Don’t Beat Yourself Up: A “Daily Affirmation” for Teachers of All Kinds

June 29, 2012

“I Refuse to Beat Myself Up!”

These are the words of Stuart Smalley in his (really Al Franken’s) I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!  Each time something goes tragi-comically wrong in Stuart’s life, he repeats 12-step mantras to himself, including this gem, “I refuse to beat myself up!”  And that simple message is what I’d like to send out today to all the teachers out there, whatever your job description.

Teaching and learning are difficult.  They are labor-intensive.  Learning–real learning, not test memorization or glib jargon use–takes a long time.  You have to actually change the physical make-up of your brain, to create new habits of mind, to overcome old and powerful ones.  Teaching means overcoming the deep biological and psychological divides between people, a combination of training, cheerleading, quarterbacking, play-devising, and after-game analysis, all in one.

Here’s the thing, though: life is long, and your students, employees, or advisees will have years and years (as well as dozens of other teachers, advisors, and leaders) to learn from.  Learning can’t happen overnight because you will it, or even because you devise the perfect activity or introductory speech or video.

So today’s short-and-sweet reminder for teachers is, take a break.  Let it happen.  Give students some space to learn–and yourself some space to think and plan and dream up what’s next.  And don’t beat yourself up!  Teachers and other kinds of motivators and advisors tend to get emotionally invested in their advisees, so we want to see their successes.  We want to see them succeed now, to get it, to make connections, to light up with the learning we are giving them.  But most of the time, it’s simply a longer and more complex process than that.

Learning are teaching are life-long processes that are extremely rewarding, often not now but later, whether that’s the end of the semester or an “Aha!” moment years from now.  Let it happen.  Don’t beat yourself up.

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