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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I Corinthians 13 for Teachers

If I am an entertaining and articulate teacher, but have not love, I am nothing.

If I have all wisdom in dealing with student and parent issues that arise, and have not love, I am nothing.

If I give  my free time grading, creating exciting lesson plans, and designing stellar bulletin boards; and have not love, I am nothing.

Love is patient

It does not get annoyed with the drumming pencil or the millionth time a student asks, “what page are we on?”

Love is kind

It speaks to students with kindness, even in times of discipline. It looks for little ways throughout the day to show students care.

Love does not envy or boast

It does not “show off” bulletin boards, lesson ideas, etc. to show up other teachers.

Love is not arrogant

It listens respectfully to the opinions of others and is willing to admit that it is wrong. It is even willing to ask forgiveness from students or other faculty when necessary.

Love is not rude

It finds ways to discipline students without belittling or embarrassing them.

Love does not insist on its own way

It does not get out of sorts when its lesson does not go according to plan or when scheduling does not work out in its favor. It does not consider its way the only way to do things.

Love is not irritable or resentful

It gives students a clean slate daily and doesn’t hold grudges. It doesn’t take student behavior personally. Its mood is not dictated by outside circumstances.

Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth

It looks for the positives in the students instead of focusing in on their weaknesses. It doesn’t feel smug or justified when the student “gets what’s coming to him”. It is heartbroken when a student makes wrong choices, not because those choices affect the day, but because those choices are displeasing to God.

Love bears all things

It sets aside its constant to-do list to really listen to what’s on students’ hearts and minds. It finds time to listen to the looong stories, pray for a pet guinea pig, and counsel the friendship drama at recess. These problems that seem so trivial to most are very real and heavy burdens on our students’ hearts.

Love believes all things

It believes the best about the students.

 Love hopes all things

Even after a rough day, it is still hopeful knowing that it was a day in which God was working His grace and perfect plan.

Love endures all things

It keeps going day in and day out. It doesn’t give up on any child because God never gives up on us .

Love never ends.

If you are like me, I see so many areas that I failed in loving my students today. Can I tell you a secret? There is no way that you or I can daily show that kind of love to our students without God’s grace!  We need God to work in our hearts and give us that spirit of love.

II Timothy 1:7 For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power,  and of love, and of a sound mind.

When I realize that I am not loving my students as I ought to be, I need to look back to the love of God for me. He has loved me despite my sinfulness, and He has offered me grace to love my students in the same unconditional way. It’s all grace!

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