Warren Buffet, the famous business magnate, investor, and philanthropist, asked a provocative question documented in Alice Schroeder’s biography of his life, Snowball:
Lookit. Would you rather be the world’s greatest lover, but have everyone think you’re the world’s worst lover? Or would you rather be the world’s worst lover but have everyone think you’re the world’s greatest lover? Now, that’s an interesting question. “Here’s another one. If the world couldn’t see your results, would you rather be thought of as the world’s greatest investor but in reality have the world’s worst record? Or be thought of as the world’s worst investor when you were actually the best?
While we’re not professional investors, as teachers, we invest in something far greater than money. We invest in our students. Let me ask you, then:
Would you rather be the world’s greatest teacher, but have everyone think you’re the world’s worst teacher? Or would you rather be the world’s worst teacher, but have everyone think you’re the world’s greatest teacher?
Buffet challenges us to sort out our priorities. Is what you think and what others think of my teaching important, or is what I think more important? Is the external scorecard of others important, or is this inner scorecard, the one I hold tightly to my chest, the one that matters?
Teachers Using the Wrong Scorecards
Teaching can be hell if you consult the wrong scorecard, as Joe’s story illustrates.
Joe, a junior high math teacher, born into a poor family in a bad neighbourhood, thanked his parents for showing him the road to success. Strict disciplinarians who never let Joe succumb to his excuses and assigned and monitored his homework carefully, his parents pushed Joe to get a university education. To help young people like his parents helped him, Joe decided not to pursue a lucrative career, but a career as a schoolteacher. His role models were teachers who, like his parents, challenged and inspired him. As a teacher, he values authoritative discipline, academic rigour, personal responsibility, accountability, and academic results.
Joe begins his career in Sunnyside Junior High School, and soon finds critics at his every turn. His students do not like his homework assignments—they have never had any to do before. The parents don’t like the C’s and D’s their kids are bringing home—these students only had A’s before. The administration doesn’t like how Joe handles classroom management, believing consequences to be too punitive and mediation to be ideal—that’s how the school has dealt with problems before. And the department head doesn’t like how Joe doesn’t teach using extensive projects—that’s the way it’s always been done at Sunnyside before.
Joe begins to hear the critical voices of students, parents, and administration, and he checks out their external score card. He’s got a failing grade with them! He must not be a good teacher! Joe begins to drinks two tall glass of rum and coke before bed each night, and he considers quitting.
“I wonder if I am too strict?” Joe wonders aloud to his wife. “Maybe I should go easy on my students. After all, the teachers who aren’t strict at my school are the most popular.”
Joe continues the rest of his thinking in a similar vein:
“And the parents complain if their kids don’t get A’s. They think I’m a bad teacher. Maybe I should just give them all A’s. I mean, who cares?”
And the negative thoughts based on others’ perceptions spiral out of control:
“Maybe the point of school IS fun and excitement, like Teacher X said. Maybe I need to put kids in more groups, let them figure out things themselves, stand back and watch. I mean, teachers X, Y, and Z do that and the principal thinks they’re great. The principal keeps telling me about the energy in their classrooms– maybe I should be like them.”
Can you relate to Joe? I sure can.
What I would like to say to Joe to counsel him, after experiencing such self-doubt in my teaching past, is this:
Focus on your inner score card. Focus on your students’ results. Heed your own voice. Forget the rest.
If Joe focused instead on his inner score card—the one that reminds him of his noble mission—he would be able to objectively listen to, carefully consider, and rationally dismiss others’ concerns because his students were performing well. He would focus on what is objective: his students’ measurable growth—both academically and emotionally. Joe would be able to keep his back straight and his head upright because he’s got an A+ with himself. He knows he’s an excellent teacher! The proof is in the pudding!
Teaching, more so perhaps than other professions, demands a great deal of mental resiliency.
As teachers, we have many critics. Students. Parents. Coworkers. Admin. The media at large. And for perfectionist teachers, we must face our very selves in the fighting ring– we must battle our inner scorecards which are so out of whack with reality they’re funny.
Wherever you face judgement, you will surely agree with me that to survive in this profession with many pens poised over external scorecards, we must hold tight to our inner score cards and our own pens.
Where’s your inner scorecard?
Is it dusty, hidden away and forgotten?
Or is it available at a moment’s notice?
What does it say?
To your success and work-life balance,
P.S. If you want to read more on this topic, I recommend you check out Dave Stuart Jr.’s post “The Danger of Externalism for Teachers and Humans”