Crushing Comparison

Aug 23, 2021 | Posted by Jennifer

Welcome back to school! It’s time to reenter the classroom, whether it is at a school in your neighborhood or in your kitchen or dining room. I think one of the reasons I love this time of the year is because, like that proverbial rock sitting on the edge of the cliff, it’s packed with potential. The entire year spreads before you and your students. What are you going to do with it?

One thing I hope you will NOT do is play this game: the comparison game. Do you know how it goes? I’m an expert. For me it usually begins something like this: Hmm. Mrs. Smith had her children compete in speech last year, and they also learned Latin and made high honors in dual enrollment. My kids only dabbled in Spanish, and we didn’t even finish the book! I need to step up my game this year. My kids are behind!

Now, there is nothing wrong with Mrs. Smith and her students’ accomplishments. Nor is there anything wrong with yours. What is problematic is that you are making a comparison that isn’t fair. It’s not fair to Mrs. Smith and her students; nor is it fair to you and yours. Comparison kills. How so? It kills your excitement. It diminishes your self-esteem. It undermines your students’ desire to learn and work hard. Comparison kills your joy.

As I mentioned above, sadly, I am an expert in the comparison game. For years I played it, comparing my children to my friends’ kids. I measured myself against my homeschooling friends. I compared my children to their siblings. For example, I worried at great length when one of my children wasn’t reading on the same schedule as the other two. Rather than focusing on taking proactive steps to figure out the reason why, I first began by blaming myself (another game I’ve been very good at throughout my homeschooling years). I immediately jumped to, “It’s my fault that ______ isn’t reading yet.” But was it true? Only if you wanted to blame the genetic markers that caused my child’s dyslexia. If so, I can also blame myself for my oldest child’s hazel eyes and my youngest’s ski slope nose.

It took me years to recognize the harm I had done not only to myself but to my children. Instead of celebrating their strengths (And each child has many strengths.), I too often chose to focus on their challenges. My worries would at times keep me up at night. Of course, I never gave my friends and colleagues that same level of scrutiny. They were great. I was the one with the problems, I felt. But here’s another truth: No one has it all together all of the time. My friends certainly had their own challenges they were facing. They were just different than mine.

The best way to help yourself and your students feel successful is to stop the comparisons. Measure progress against their own accomplishments, not against those of their peers or their siblings. For that matter, don’t compare yourself to other educators or parents either. It doesn’t help you or the person you are holding up in the mirror. Instead, focus on your class or your family. If trials arise, and they will, face them head on, and continue to put one foot in front of the other. I love Andrew Pudewa’s conference presentation However Imperfectly because it reiterates that perfection isn’t the aim. We simply cannot attain it however hard we may strive.

Progress trumps perfection. Celebrate your and your students’ successes, and cheer on your colleagues, whether they work at a school or in the home. Teaching and parenting are tough gigs. Don’t let comparison steal your joy. Stop the worrying. Instead, take joy in the blessings before you. They are there waiting for you to notice them. If you do, your school year will be much more peaceful and personally rewarding.

So, it’s time to head back into the classroom. I hope you will go there with joy, with enthusiasm, and with confidence. Make it a great one! I’ll be cheering you on.

Jennifer Mauser has always loved reading and writing and received a B.A. in English from the University of Kansas in 1991. Once she and her husband had children, they decided to homeschool, and she put all her training to use in the home. In addition to homeschooling her children, Jennifer teaches IEW classes out of her home, coaches budding writers via email, and tutors students who struggle with dyslexia.

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