I had an hour-long discussion about this post tonight, with 8 other corps members, two teachers from KIPP, a TFA staff member, and the special ed executive director for our district.
Among the many reactions as to whether competition for teachers is a good thing or a bad thing, a strong voice stuck with me, saying “teaching isn’t ABOUT you.”
I identify with Ms. Mathinaz strongly on pieces of her post—I find comparison and competition motivating, and I don’t like the prevailing culture that treats teachers getting in each others’ business as taboo.
But teaching ISN’T about me. That voice said it so well tonight: “my goal when I’m teaching is that every single one of my kids meets a bar that I set for them. If all but seven of my kids hit that bar, then I fell short of my goal. And I try and improve so I can come closer to my goal next time. That’s not competitive.” And it’s true. I don’t think setting goals and holding yourself ruthlessly accountable counts as competitive. I also don’t think a teacher should hold any main goal other than some form of the one stated above.
For me, though, that conclusion is a little scary. If I start to wonder whether competition isn’t good for teaching, it forces me to look at myself and wonder not whether teaching is a good fit for me, but whether I am a good fit for teaching.
I can love an activity if I’m able to constantly improve at it. We’re good there. The CIE tattoo on my foot isn’t going anywhere. But what makes me constantly improve? What gives me the fuel to actually do it? … I’m afraid it’s competition. Comparison. Measurement. With “yardsticks.” Call me whatever you’ll call me, but I’ve seen myself at my worst and at my best, and I know this is what gets me going.
I’m here because I want to give my students the education they deserve. Am I allowed to be a teacher if, while definitely at the core of my decision to be here in the first place, that noble thought isn’t what makes my skin tingle or what makes me itch to work harder? If I’m motivated by something other, something less virtuous, than the mere thought of my students doing better?
I’ve got to either contrive imaginary competitive schemes to keep myself in Go Mode, or do some self-engineering and figure out how to change what motivates me. Or leave and find a way to contribute that puts this part of me to good use.