Take the Work Seriously, But Don’t Take Yourself Seriously.

When I was sixteen years old, my three best friends and I decided to see how many tissues we could shove in our mouths. There was no reason. It was after school one day, and it was something we could compete over. I was “winning” this contest when the gag reflex kicked in and I came closer to choking to death than I’d like to admit.

I tell this story to say this — no matter what I do in my life, I am still the same moron who nearly died in a tissue-mouth-shoving contest. That’s important.

Think of the most ridiculous thing you did in high school. You are still that person. You will always be that person. It doesn’t matter how much wisdom you have accumulated in the intervening years, you are still that person.

And that’s a good thing for so many reasons.

A career in education is a powerful way to spend your life. The work we do is important, meaningful, and incredibly challenging. We should take the work of helping children learn incredibly seriously. But we should remember to never take ourselves all that seriously. Because, to quote the kids, “It’s just not that deep.”

When we have the humility to remember all the twists and turns in the path that got us to where we are today, we are more likely to be understanding of the twists and turns in the paths our students take.

When we don’t fall in love with our own ideas, we remain open to change and grow. We are more likely to allow our ideas to be influenced and made better by our students and our colleagues.

When we remember to laugh at ourselves, we display an openness to students that is so important to model.

When we have enough sense of the long view of our lives, we laugh more easily, smile more broadly and are more likely to share a sense of joy with the people around us.

When we are not overly invested in our own seriousness of purpose, we remember that we are the lucky ones – we get to spend our working lives teaching and learning with our students, and really, that’s a pretty awesome way to spend our time.

When we don’t take ourselves too seriously, we remember that the work isn’t about us. It’s about the kids.

So let’s find a reason to laugh with the kids and our colleagues every day. Pick up the guitar and play with the kids, even if we sing off-key. Play basketball with our students – even if they cream us. Let’s let them see us as whole people, so that they might let us see them the same way.

And, then when we can really all talk to one another without the view of each other’s egos in the way, we can ask them what they think about our schools, and we can listen deeply to their answers and let their ideas change our own.

4 thoughts on “Take the Work Seriously, But Don’t Take Yourself Seriously.

  1. Such good reminders. I really need to play more. That said, writing is one of my forms of “playing” because I enjoy it so much – and I regularly share that with the students.

    I’ll schedule a couple recesses per month where I play games with the kids. Thanks for that.

  2. This is a superb post and a great grounder; it will hopefully remind all of us of our roots and why we’re all doing what we do in the first place. It’s also refreshing to see that others admit to tomfoolery in their youth.

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  4. I am a non-traditional teacher. I teach 50+ English Learners in six different grades. Most of my work is done in the students’ classrooms in collaboration with their teacher. I am fortunate to co-teach with great teachers, but what I love most is working with the first grade teacher. Your post helped me to understand why. She lets her students see that she is a real person, not a teacher on a pedestal (which tends to be the norm when working with 6 and 7 year olds!). If she makes a mistake, they all laugh together, teacher included. She gives students a voice in the classroom. She understands that students have bad days and lets them know that she does too.

    This post is an excellent reminder to loosen up a bit in the classroom and let the kids see that I am a real person. I have fun. I make mistakes. I am real.

    Thank you for this post!