When we go to college to be a teacher, we are taught the “ideal” way to do anything. We are taught “ideal” expectations.
When we get to the classroom, we need to meet “ideal” standards and get “ideal” scores on tests. We are given books like Harry K. Wong’s First Days of School, which clearly state that teaching is not about leading the horse to the water; OUR TASK is to make the horse “drink”.
The very clear suggestion is that it is YOUR fault if your students don’t want to study.
Never mind that Kyle came to school today so scared that he hid in an empty locker in the hallway. His mother called last night before you, his teacher, left the classroom. It was 4:15 pm and she was yelling and yelling at you on the phone. She was most likely drunk.
Now Kyle is scared to face you. He is ashamed. If you go out to speak to him, he will float and cry. When you tell him, “It’s okay. Everything is okay. I’m not angry. I know it’s not your fault …” he’ll throw himself at you with a hug and won’t stop crying all day.
How do you get an eight-year-old child to study with a 1000-pound weight on their shoulders from home?
How do you follow all of Mr. Wong’s great advice when your school management doesn’t support your classroom management efforts by failing to notify you of schedule changes, last minute meetings, or interrupting your class to bring you eight new students?
With all due respect to Harry K. Wong and his great teaching strategies, I threw his book into my campfire one summer! I eventually realized that I had beaten myself up for not being perfect, even though much of the deck was stacked against me. I learned great tips from the book, but its idealistic tone of “teaching perfection” is very harmful.
DO NOT GET ME WRONG! I DO NOT PRESENT THAT WE AVOID RESPONSIBILITY. In fact, nothing makes me angrier than when people try to blame everyone but themselves. As human beings, all of us teachers can always learn and strive to improve.
However, we need to stop sticking to impossible standards. We also need to recognize when things happen that are beyond our control. Expectations of perfection, as Harry Wong so gleefully described them, guarantee that we will ALWAYS feel like failures!
WHAT CAN WE DO AGAINST IT?
There is a mathematical law of the universe that predicted, even before man even set foot on the planet, that we could never achieve perfection in teaching. It’s called the Pareto Principle, which was discovered by Vilfredo Pareto. It is also known as the “80/20 principle”. And that goes for everything!
80/20 says you will be wearing 20% of your clothes 80% of the time. It also says that 80% of your happiness comes from 20% of your experience. Likewise, 80% of your frustrations in school are caused by 20% of your students, or maybe as little as 5-10% of your students.
80/20 can also be 95/5 … the point is that cause and effect relationships are rarely, if ever, 50/50. In the vast majority of cases, they will be very disproportionate.
80/20 appears in the most unexpected places. Just last week my dad called and was really excited! He and my mother are planning a big family reunion this summer. Dad coordinates tickets to a Detroit Tiger baseball game this weekend and buys 86 tickets. But he had problems with a couple of relatives who together represented 15 tickets. He wrote a damning email to one of them. Before hitting “send” he had the mind to hold back … and called me to vent.
He told me all the details and was entitled to be upset. But I also knew that there was another side of the story and had to talk him “off the edge”. So I grabbed the calculator.
“Dad, there is a mathematical law that pretty much guarantees that you will have trouble buying those tickets. It’s the 80/20 principle.
“Long before you were born, it was pretty much predicted that you would have these troubles. 80/20 says 80% of your problems come from 20% of the tickets. So you need 86 tickets, but you have problems with 15 of them. .. that’s 17% 80/20 predicted this a long time ago! You really can’t fight it.