I compare myself a lot to other people. That was the environment I grew up in. In Malaysia, rankings of students after a big strings of exams were posted on the board for all to see. You, your friends, your peers, your teachers, your parents, and everyone in the school WILL know where you rank among your fellow peers in the same class or cohort. To make myself be better, and feel better, I constantly compare to my peers. Yeah, so comparison is a fabric of my life. Everything I have been doing, I will compare it with how someone else does it. Sometimes without contexts, and sometimes without rationales.
Teaching, a favorite part of my life, does not escape such trap of constant need for meeting “standards” or “norms” or “ways of teaching” or “best practices” or “the very popular and amazing teacher who teaches math on Monday and Wednesday!” In my mind, comparison is my go-to in terms of how I perform, how I convey, how I talk, how I care, and how I assess. Whenever one drops in the conversation saying “that person is an amazing teacher”, I will probe on the topic, asking about how, why, and what about that “amazing teacher”. I will then compare (you get the gist!) and re-evaluate how I do, based on, eventually, how that “amazing teacher” does.
So why am I having this soapbox about comparisons and how I tend to operate in this blogpost? Well, because last year, when I came across Sarah Deel’s article, especially this quote: “I embraced the idea that there are many ways to be an effective teacher…My encounter with Parker’s ideas freed me to try to become a teacher true to my own qualities of self,” an epiphany hit me. It hit me particularly hard, and I realized why. I never really had an authentic teaching self. Granted, I have never really taught in official capacities, but I have been GTAs for classes, tutors for many of my peers, and graders for my instructors. While taking on these responsibilities, instead of reflecting and looking inward, I constantly looked outward and strived to be another “amazing teacher.” Yes, I compare, always. Never did the thought of me sitting down, without screens or anything, and reflect upon myself ever cross my mind, until I read Deel’s article and others.
I embarked upon that journey of self-reflection since then, and constantly remind myself not to compare. Yes, it is essential to always improve yourself with great ideas. When a teacher does something I think that would be great for my students, I plan to research on it. When publications recommend certain pedagogical and assessment approaches, I plan to do my due diligence to make sure it fits the context of the class I am teaching. But I will constantly remind myself this: never compare. You are not that “amazing teacher,” and an “amazing teacher” does not exist, because every teacher has their own voices, their own ways to engage with students, their own ways of caring about their students, their own ways to convey knowledge, their own ways to assess their students, and their own ways to design and facilitate learning in a classroom. Be authentic to yourself so that you would feel comfortable in your classroom, and your students would feel the genuine you while they learn. As Sarah Deel says: “I will not spend my teaching life striving to be the one perfect teacher; I know that there are many ways to be a good teacher, and I will enjoy the freedom to explore them as I choose.”