The Pursuit of Perfection in Teaching

Do you ever just feel overwhelmed? Like you’re a failure at teaching?

Your class seems crazy, the grading stack seems to multiply faster than you can tame it, your lessons feel like they are falling flat, and you just know that you are not a good teacher.

Then you get on Pinterest and see these wonderful classrooms and amazing teachers and you really feel depressed.

But being overwhelmed has helped me begin to think.

Why do I get so frustrated and overwhelmed? Well, teaching is hard and overwhelming, no question about that! But I often find myself in this slump, simply and honestly, because I want to be the best. I have always had to be the best – have the best projects in the class, be the best student teacher, the best person…and trying to be the best is awfully hard. There are a whole lot of people and circumstances that barge in and mess up my plans for being perfect. And, of course – my own imperfect heart doesn’t help the situation, either! 😉

When my goal is to be the “perfect” teacher, it’s no wonder I am frustrated when I have to do  a  not-so-exciting lesson plan that involves reading the textbook and doing a worksheet.  I thought I was going to be one of those really fun teachers who always had the entire class hanging on her every word and action every minute of every day (I may have watched one too many inspirational teacher movies)! No wonder I am irritated when I have to scold them for misbehavior. No wonder it drives me crazy when I have a fun lesson and it goes off course through students’ disobedience or failure on the assessment. I am confronted with the truth that I am not the best teacher…maybe I’m just an average teacher – or maybe even below average!

And I realize that being the best has become my idol…that is why I get so frustrated and overwhelmed when I face these issues in my class. The idol of perfection is a hard god to worship – you see, it is never satisfied. No matter what you do, you will always feel like you have to do more and be more.

But God does not expect me to be perfect…He knows my sins and my weaknesses, and He loves me anyway. Just as I am saved by grace, I am sustained by grace.  Why would I labor at the altar of perfectionism to a god who will never be satisfied when I have a Savior who is calling to me,

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  Matthew 11:28-29

When I realize that I don’t have to be perfect, my goal can change from being the best teacher to glorifying God…and all of my issues are seen in an entirely new light.

Whether therefore ye eat, or drink or whatsover ye do, do all to the glory of God   I Corinthians 10:31

I can glorify God through whatever I do in the classroom. I can glorify Him through a “boring” textbook/worksheet lesson. I can glorify Him when handling discipline problems and realizing that I perhaps have failed in a certain situation. This is not to say that I should not strive to improve my teaching…all good teachers are always learning and looking for ways to improve!  I am referring to those of us (myself included!) who feel overwhelmed by the unrealistic expectations and burdens we place on ourselves to be perfect teachers.


When I am focusing on glorifying God, then my day can not be ruined by a failed lesson, parent complaint, or student discipline issue. My eyes are too busy looking for ways in these circumstances to show my students how great our God is and how much He loves them. After all, as they go throughout their lives, is it more important for my students  to remember me as an incredible 4th grade teacher…or to remember their 4th grade teacher’s great God?

Being the perfect teacher is very subjective, and I will rarely “feel” that I am a great teacher. Honestly, right now, being the best teacher feels a little impossible.

Perfection is impossible.

But glorifying God is possible — under any circumstances.

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  1. Really great read and definitely applies to this perfectionist right here. Thanks! I would say I’ve been a Christian for only about a year now and I would love to glorify God in my classroom as you mentioned. Could you explain that a little more for me? Im a 25 year old that teaches high school and I feel that I have a great platform to point my students to God…I just don’t really know how! Do I just make comments about what I believe just when I can squeeze it in? Thank you!!

  2. Courtney10, that would be a really neat follow-up post to write sometime – just some of the practical applications of it! God is working on this in my heart right now, so I am right in the middle of it and by no means an expert, but I’d love to share what I’m learning! First of all, do you teach in a Christian school or a school where you can talk pretty freely about Christ? What subject do you teach? Sometimes it can be the little things – starting your class by briefly sharing something that God has taught you in your own time with the Lord. My reactions can glorify God to my students – when my schedule gets interrupted or I am dealing with something tough in my own life, I can be honest with them about how this wasn’t what I had planned, but God had a different plan for the day and it’s a better one; responding to your tough students in love and patience (especially when they don’t deserve it!) and pointing them to Christ – anything I can do to make God look great to them (not that He really needs my help!). It is definitely talking about Him – but let it come from the overflow of your own heart and flow naturally into your teaching/conversation as you get to know Him more. A good resource might be Paul Tripp’s book Instructing a Child’s Heart – it’s technically a parenting book,but it really encouraged me to be more intentional in how I am pointing my students to Christ. If you teach in a public school, some of those things may be tricky so you’ll need to know what your boundaries are. Even in public school, though, you can show students by the way you think, speak, act, and live that you love God. If the goal of our heart is to glorify God, I think that’s going to come through to our students!

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  3. Hi, thanks for all your blog posts. They have really been a huge blessing to me. I’ve been feeling very discouraged recently due to response(or lack of) from students, neverending workload and lessons falling flat. And i think a very big part of the problem is that i tend to take things very personally when my students look bored/restless or is simply unmotivated to learn. Does it seem weird that I’m looking for approval from my students constantly? I know I shouldn’t but it’s hard to stop. Thanks for reminding me that God doesn’t expect me to be perfect. In fact the more i struggle, the more I want to look towards HIim. So once again, thanks for what you’re doing in this blog. Timely reminders!

    1. Nope, you’re not weird – unless I am, too! I have been struggling with this as well, and God keeps bringing this to mind – my job is to serve/glorify Him. It’s a tough time of the year – it is so busy and the students are ready for summer – it is hard!! Thanks for your transparency!