Becoming an Imperfectionist

Jun 11, 2018 | Posted by Evan


On June 17 in the United States, we celebrate Father’s Day, a day to recognize the special role that fathers hold in their families. Evan Smith, one of our fabulous IEW dads, wrote this post to relate an experience he recently shared with his son. Enjoy reading about Evan’s journey to becoming an “imperfectionist.”


Becoming an Imperfectionist

“I am supposed to be grown up now, and I am profoundly ignorant about everything.” This realization, as reflected by Andrew Pudewa in However Imperfectly: Lessons Learned from Thirty Years of Teaching and Other Articles, is common for many parents and teachers at some point in the odyssey of educating their students. Andrew goes on to acknowledge that “maybe it’s not entirely my own fault,” but the consolation is minimal when one is in the thick of a conflict where the future well-being of a child is seemingly hanging in the balance!

These quotations, pulled from Andrew’s first “lesson” in However Imperfectly, reveal how hard it is to not do to our students what was done to us. I was brought up in a traditional school setting with standards set for me that took no account of my individual learning needs and overall interests and goals. Thus, I graduated without much of a sense of accomplishment and without a real direction on how to proceed with the things that I wanted to do. I mostly learned that I should be keeping the status quo, and if I couldn’t produce perfection with an A+, then nothing was really good enough until I could. Despite being blessed with exposure to alternative education options for my own children (including IEW), I recognized the negative traits I had been imparting in my son when his assignment for Unit 9 rolled around toward the end of the school year, and the two of us had come to an impasse.

Despite his talent for writing, my son had begun to struggle in accomplishing his weekly assignments. Over the course of a few conversations, it became clear that he had been feeling confined by the checklists and creatively stifled by the unit models. While he said that he actually liked many of the dress-ups, he found it quite taxing to figure out how to include all of them in every paragraph when he was already satisfied with how his work sounded. Ultimately he just wanted to tell his own stories, but had grown frustrated with having to include “so much” in his papers this year compared to the bare bones write-ups he had been able to churn out in years past before we began to work with IEW material. My appeals up to that point, from “practice makes perfect,” to “this is something you just need to learn,” to “do this or you will have consequences,” were just not working because they really had no relevance to his personal goals and aspirations. Besides, my words lacked the necessary depth to encourage him because they were not truly expressing why I was trying to help him learn and grow—because I care about him!

Taking the time to truly listen to his concerns and apply my more recent illuminations on education gave me the opportunity to understand my son’s current point of need and reassess my teaching approach. Without worrying about my ability to make a perfect presentation, I was then able to share with him in greater detail that his assignments were all about the process of playing with words and ideas and not necessarily about the final product yet. While he certainly did not have to like it, I explained that he would be working toward confidence and competence—to use or not use the language tools he was acquiring for present and future endeavors. Finally, I let him know that there would definitely come a day when he would graduate from the checklist. As Andrew Pudewa says, the checklists are like “running with weights.” You train with the weights so that you can eventually take them off to become faster and stronger.

When we next sat down to work on the assignment, I took the time to converse with him on each step of writing his critique. Without worrying about a “perfect” teaching moment, I just focused on the quality time at hand, allowing my son to offer his own unique analysis of a traditional story. For the first time, my son expressed excitement over the thinking skills (asking questions) that the Unit 9 critique model offered! He found that he actually could apply some of his creativity while continuing to write within the established framework. Having been empowered to develop and get the ideas out of his head and into his key word outline, he found the dress-ups and sentence openers were not nearly as taxing to him as he had previously found them. Instead of simply squeezing them in, he used them to enhance his ideas.

Since he was involved in a weekly writing class, my son eagerly awaited the date to hand in his assignment. Not only did the teacher choose to read the paper in class, but my son received a solid “A” along with some encouraging notes about his intriguing analysis. In the end, regardless of the specific mission being accomplished to accolade, my son was able to use Structure and Style™ as intended: to practice vividly expressing a well-formed, good idea.

Having put the final lesson of However Imperfectly into action (slow down and love your student while teaching!), I actually found a way to begin helping myself to overcome doing to my students what was done to me. Perhaps I am no longer as “profoundly ignorant” or incapable of motivating my children in their schooling as I had previously thought. Properly ordered compassion is a far greater tool for long-term gain compared to compulsion toward a sort of “perfection” in the short term. With a solid win for all sides in this “battle”, I now have a far brighter and fresher outlook on winning the overall proverbial war—however imperfectly it may be achieved.


Evan Smith is originally from Indianapolis, Indiana, but has called Oklahoma home since 1997. With a background in sales, customer service, distribution, and special needs job coaching, he has been excited to contribute to IEW's company mission since joining the team in 2017. Evan's greatest accomplishment was to marry his wife, Kathryn, and begin their family together in 2006. They reside in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, with their six children and one dog. Evan enjoys reading to his family, telling stories, singing, playing guitar, riding mountain bikes, and drinking coffee.

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