Comparison is the Thief of Joy

Recently I joined several groups on Facebook geared to teachers. I'm so glad I did; I've enjoyed getting to know these fellow educators and already have been inspired by their ideas, classrooms, and attitudes! But, as is common to any type of group gathering (be it in-person or on-line), opinions are as plentiful and diverse as the people themselves, and eventually someone in the group will say something that irks someone else. It's the way of man. I try to steer clear of all such drama (I learned that lesson the hard way 😳) and usually opt to ignore it completely, but the other day several people posted comments that rubbed me the wrong way, and more importantly, got me thinking...

Why do we teachers compare ourselves to each other? What do we gain by it? In the incident referenced above, many teachers had shared with the Facebook group pictures of their "finished" classrooms, and other members were liking, commenting, asking questions, etc.  Judging by the mammoth number of people who were responding to the photographs with great interest, the sharing seemed to be a practice appreciated by the great majority of the group. Suddenly, a new thread popped up on the group's timeline. The poster had written a long paragraph addressing what she considered to be a cause for concern--that teachers whose rooms are not yet "finished" might be upset, frustrated, and overwhelmed by teachers' whose rooms are "Pinterest-perfect". She cautioned the (presumably anxious) viewers to remember "what's important" about teaching and that it's okay for their classrooms not to be in tip-top shape yet. While I think that this post, in itself, was a little immature in nature, the poster shared her thoughts in a respectful, non-accusatory way, and I had no problem with it. She was giving her opinion on something. No big deal. What I did take issue with, however, were some of the comments posted in response.  

"I focus on teaching, not color-coordination."  

"My classroom is all about building a community and learning, not having a theme."

"Thank you for saying this. So many teachers just don't understand what teaching is anymore." 

"I spend my time creating engaging lessons, not labeling baskets."

"Students don't care anything about how a classroom looks anyway. It's just a waste of time."

On and on it went. At one point I felt like I was observing a girls' gripe session on an elementary playground. None of the statements were directed at me (though I had both posted photos and commented on others'), but I still felt a little bit like I'd been slapped in the face. I didn't reply to anyone on this thread and read only a few comments before recognizing that my reading the words in consternation would be just as immature as it had been for the people to write them. I quickly closed out the conversation and went on about my day, but for some reason my thoughts returned to the topic this morning.

I realize that jealousy is often the harbinger of such assertions ("I spend my time creating engaging lessons, not labeling baskets"), but it seems to me that we educators should be above this kind of behavior. I mean, really...why does it matter what another teacher does or doesn't do?

She doesn't color-coordinate her classroom? So what? That doesn't mean she doesn't come up with amazing lessons. He doesn't have labeled baskets for his classroom library books? Who cares? That doesn't indicate that he doesn't create a stellar classroom environment that makes his students feel safe and comfortable. And you want to know something? The reverse is also true. She who has a specific classroom theme might also work like a dog to create a community of learners. He who already has spent his first check outfitting his classroom with flexible seating options might also create kick-tushy lessons. Why must it be one or the other? And why does it matter so much what Mrs. Smith ANYONE ELSE? Are we truly that insecure in ourselves?          

We observe a teacher with amazing classroom management and automatically assume that "she just has a really well-behaved group of kids this year". We look at a teacher whose classroom is color-coordinated and organized and immediately offer excuses for our own rooms--"I have kids; I don't have time for that mess"--and disdain for hers--"Of course her room looks like that! She doesn't work a second job like I do". Forgive me, but comments like these serve no other purpose than to make us look like jealous, immature, insecure young pups.

Every single one of us is equipped with strengths and weaknesses, and casting a jaundiced eye at a teacher whose strengths in one area seem to surpass our own accomplishes nothing. My own classroom is color-coordinated, but I couldn't care less if another teacher's isn't. I'm too mesmerized by the way she so brilliantly manages her students' classroom jobs.  I wonder if she'd help me with mine...? 

We'd learn a lot from each other if we'd just stop comparing ourselves. It's foolish, it affects nothing positive, and it steals our joy.

Ta-ta for now! I'm off to go visit the teacher down the hall. She always says that her classroom isn't "pretty" like other teachers', but I've never attention is completely taken by her enthusiastic instruction--it's one of the coolest things I've ever seen!


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