I wrote this post for myself a few weeks ago. I didn't want to share it because I know I sound like a pathetic brat. Then it occurred to me (probably because I have Macbeth on the brain) about the false face that sometimes covers our true hearts. If I force my students to be honest in their writing, then I better hold myself to the same standard here, with my writing. So here's a glimpse at the inner, ugly ego.
I am a loser. Officially. I was nominated for the Golden Apple Award and I lost. Seven people were nominated, so technically I wasn’t the only loser, but losing still sucks when you’re as competitive as I am, and when you care about your job as much as I do. Logically, I know that being a sore loser is childish and ridiculous. Emotionally, I don’t care.
Being a good teacher is one of the single most important things in my life. Teaching teenagers how to express themselves through writing and speaking, making reading fun, and showing my students that I care about them as people are jobs that I take seriously. I’m not here just to get a paycheck. I’m not here to mold people into perfect robots. In my head, I see myself as someone who is here to help kids realize how powerful their voices can be, and to do whatever I can to nurture them. I know I’m self absorbed, but I really do think that I’m an amazing freaking teacher. Maybe that’s why it stings so much to not win an award.
And then I want to slap myself. Get a grip, Hauptsteen! I know of at least four other educators I’ve worked with who have never even been nominated, let alone won, and they deserve it as much as I think I do. And any of the other nominees deserved to win just as much as I did. It’s selfish to be upset about losing when at least I was recognized. I got a certificate. My name was in the paper. Why can’t I suck it up and be content?
The worst part is that adults (other teachers and parents) keep coming up to congratulate me on being nominated. So I keep smiling to hide my bitter brattiness and say, “Thank you,” while in my head the same loop keeps playing over and over: Do not congratulate me. I am a loser. I didn’t win so I’m obviously not good enough. Nothing I do will ever be good enough. I don’t deserve it. And then I hate myself all over again because what kind of total jerk can’t be grateful when people say nice things to her?
I thought I was hiding it pretty well, but Pat sent me an article on “How to Handle Losing.” (Seriously. That man!) I wrote back and asked if there was any particular reason he was sending it my way, and his response was Classic O’Brien Mentor Voodoo: “If you think I’m sending it for a reason, then there’s probably a reason.” (Ugh.) I hate it when he’s right and I have to admit it, so I didn’t reply back.
It has nothing to do with the teacher who actually won the award, either. While he’s not a co-worker, I have heard from plenty of students and adults that he’s a top-notch educator, so it’s not like I lost to someone because he was simply more popular or well-liked. And honestly, who knows if I even “lost” to him at all? There were seven nominees, so I could have easily been last in the bunch. It’s only in my own mind that I somehow deserved this award.
Why do I think I need this recognition anyway? Isn’t it enough to simply know that I am a phenomenal educator? No. It isn’t. Because of who I am as a person, and how teachers and public education are often viewed in this society.
I crave validation. That’s what happens when your father skips out when you’re six months old. I want others to recognize worth in me because I have a hard time finding it in myself. (Yes, my brain is divided perfectly in half between an egotistical maniac and a self-loathing puddle of pathetic. It doesn’t make sense to me either.) Part of me thinks that winning an award for teaching would give me the contentment I need to feel like people appreciate who I am and what I do. The other part of me knows that an award would never come close to filling the gaping hole inside of me, so it’s even more ridiculous to care about recognition when I know it would never be enough.
Teachers get slammed a lot by the world at large, some deservedly so. There are lazy, horrible teachers out there. There are people who don’t care or do their jobs very well. Every person I’ve ever met has at least one traumatic or awful school experience, and it’s almost always because of a teacher. There’s no question that I’m that ghost for some former students. But I work hard every day (yes, during the summer, too) to make sure that I’m the best teacher I am capable of being for my students. That’s my job. I shouldn’t need to be recognized for doing it, but it also wouldn’t hurt to have a boost when I’m grading the 100th paper of the weekend.
No, not other people. This is about adults. My students recognize what I do on a daily basis. They write me notes and send me emails and do so many things to show their gratitude and respect for me as an educator. Sometimes the love they send my way brings tears to my eyes because there’s no way I could possibly deserve to have that many people love me just for being me and doing my job. It’s not my students I crave validation from; they give it to me on a daily basis. It’s adults. Their parents. The community. Fellow educators. The world. I spend my life telling kids that their voices matter just as much as anyone else’s, and here I am saying that I need other voices to reinforce that I’m doing a good job. I suck. Officially.
Not winning an award is something I’ll get over. It has already occupied too much of my brain space, and nothing good will ever come from it. It wouldn’t make me a better educator, and it certainly wouldn’t make me a better person. I didn’t pursue a career in education to win recognition, and I don’t do what I do in my classroom to earn praise. I teach. I'm good at it. That's enough.
I teach 7th and 8th grade English in rural Iowa and hope to reflect, connect, and share with other English teachers. Iowa Council of Teachers of English Executive Board member. Iowa Writing Project superfan. UNI MA:TESS graduate.