Monday, October 12, 2009

A Hundred Years Ago I Would Be An Adult (Part 2)

There are three different kinds of teachers. (There are bajillions of different teaching styles, but every teacher, whatever their style is, falls into one of these three groups. Because we're human, they probably skip back and forth, but if you're a teacher, you are always in one of these categories.)

There are teachers who encourage you to do your absolute worst.

These are the teachers who never accept responsibility for their own state of preparedness, their own attitude, or their own life. These are the teachers who announce at the beginning of class that they read the lesson an hour ago, but they're sure we can 'all work together to learn something' anyway- and then jump on anyone who tries to contribute or help or pull things out of the lesson ('Excuse me, excuse me- I'm the teacher; this is my class; shut up'). Then, when everyone gets the hint that their views are unwelcome they shut up and refuse to share; in scenarios where the teacher has acted like this for some time, they will refuse to answer questions or even read text from the book or manual. Having achieved this, the teacher will then proceed to tell anyone with ears, including her own students, what a terrible, delinquent class she has, how they never work with her, and how can anyone teach a good lesson in this atmosphere?

I've had teachers like this, and I'm not bitter at all.

There are the teachers who encourage you to do no less than the absolute minimum, will be concerned and constantly try to help you if you do less. But if you do more than the minimum, you're a freak, a genius, someone above and beyond. Pretty soon, you are doing the minimum- the minimum to be praised and admired without ever going so far as to actually break a sweat.

These are the teachers I and most people get most of the time. They're good people, but they never inspire you to greatness. They inspire you to boredom and mediocrity, and never realize they're doing it.

The thing is, mediocrity is different for different people. If someone with a learning disability reads the Book of Mormon in a year, that's amazing. It's above and beyond. It is their personal best. But if I read the Book of Mormon in a year, it isn't amazing. It's good that I'm maintaining a habit of regular scripture study, and that I'm acheiving my goals- but I could be setting those goals higher. When I read the Book of Mormon in a year and expect public recognition, besides being a jerk I'm being mediocre. I'm expecting praise for doing something that comes easily.

Mediocre is what you are when you do anything less than your best. Your best might be better or worst than someone else's best, but if it is really your best, it doesn't matter.

The third kind of teacher is the one who sees you falling into the habit of mediocrity, calls you on it, and both bullies and inspires (it requires both when you're in the habit of coasting) you to do your absolute best.

This is what I mean when I say that a hundred years ago I would have been an adult. A hundred years ago, doing less than your best was a good way to get killed/starve to death. Maybe life wasn't as fun then as it is now, but people did their best. On a personal level, they were better than us.

People tell me that things have changed and there's no comparison. We need more education now; that requires a longer 'growing up' period.

I disagree. I think we only need a different education. Do you know how to keep a fire burning through the night? How to milk cows? How to shear sheep? How to clean the wool, spin it, weave it, and sew it? Do you know how to hunt a deer through the woods without an automatic rifle? Do you know how to make hats? Do you know how to ride or shoe or train a horse? Do you know how to keep a house clean without modern soap or electric help (dishwasher, washing machine, dryer, vacuum cleaner)?

None of these things are things we have to know now; we have our own set of things to learn. And if you try to tell me that modern life is more complicated, try sailing a ship without a GPS.

I don't wish I lived back then. Life is certainly more comfortable now. But I wish that as a culture we had kept that attitude of always doing our best in everything. We can do our best individually anyway. But when we are surrounded by an attitude of good enough, it's hard. People resent it when you rise and do your best, because it makes their mediocrity look and feel bad. And so, through peer pressure, our teachers, and our culture, we are constantly told to do the minimum and no more.

I hate that. I want more than that. I'm going to be more than that. But I'm not going to have the automatic support or encouragement or understanding I would if I were to settle for less.


  1. How many teachers have you had that fall into the third category? Can you give some specific examples? I wonder which one I fall into? I'd LIKE to think I'm in the third category, but I'm not sure I've ever really pushed my students to be their absolute best - most of the time just getting them to settle down enough to do the lesson is a challenge (depending on the age). Definitely something to strive for!

  2. why? yes we can be better than we are, yes we should, but why does it need to be so diferent? we are all human. but we are becoming better at nothing if we don't consantly strive to be a little beter than we were last year/month/week/night. we can say "I want world peace! But I want the government to deel with it." but thats not the way to acheve it. to get peace, we first must understand what we want, then help others to, while doing our very best to get there the way that works at all times.