“Comparison is the thief of joy.” – Theodore Roosevelt
I, like many people, find myself constantly comparing myself to others. I think about what makes them better than me or vice versa. I think about how much prettier they are, how much skinnier they are, how much more talented they are. You name it, I’ve compared it. But I’ve never experienced it worse than comparing myself to other teachers.
I want to be the best teacher for my students because that is what they deserve. So I am ALWAYS thinking about what is going well and what isn’t, how I could change things to be more effective, more efficient. That’s not the problem. Reflective teaching is important for both personal and professional growth. It helps me change what isn’t working so that I can be better and my classroom and students can be better in return. No, that’s not the problem.
The problem comes when I start doing that and then comparing myself to other teachers. I see another Pre-K class walking down the hallway and their teacher doesn’t have to say a word and they walk in a perfect line quickly and quietly. Meanwhile, I am constantly praising the students that are following expectations, “____, I love the way you are keeping your bubble,” or “Wow! ____, I am so impressed that you know how to walk on the first big tile with your eyes forward.” I do that, yet my students are still turning around causing them to run into the people in front of them when they stop. They are making silly noises, touching the wall, stomping, walking in the middle of the hallway. You name it, they are probably doing it (unless of course you name doing it the right way).
So I start thinking, “Wow, what are they doing that I’m not doing?” Not a bad question to ask. Learning from colleagues is also important. But then I take it a step further, “What am I doing wrong?” Still not the worst question to ask, even if it is phrased poorly. But do I stop there? Nope, I keep going, “I must just be a worse teacher. I must not know how to talk to these kids or how to teach them. Why did I even become a teacher in the first place? I’m not any good anyway.”
This is the problem. It is unhealthy and untrue.
Yet I still do it. All. The. Time.
So how do I draw the line between healthy reflection and unhealthy comparison?
In Galatians 6:4, it says “Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else.” Another translation of that verse says, “Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others.”
This is the key.
God clearly says that it is important to reflect and to become a better version of yourself each day. By focusing on myself and doing the work that He has sent me to do. I work each day to become the best teacher, never staying satisfied with where I am at. Continually striving to be more. I look at what I am doing and the growth and progress I, as well as my students, have made. That is how I judge how I am doing. Are they getting better each day? Am I? Great, keep working at it. This is how I gain satisfaction from my work.
But do you know what I can’t do? I can’t compare myself. To anyone. About Anything. It will just bring me down and make me feel unworthy. Like Theodore Roosevelt said, it will steal my joy.
No, it’s not going to be easy. But it will be beyond worth it. And when I feel like comparing myself again, I’ll just remind myself, “Are they getting better each day? Am I? Great, keep working. Don’t compare.“