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Warm Self-Critique: A Mark of Great Teachers

By Dave Stuart Jr.

If we stick to teaching as long as we ought to, we're going to make bad decisions — all kinds of them. The key to becoming a wiser teacher, then, is not to aim at making no mistakes, but to learn from the mistakes of this year so that next year we can make different (and better) ones.

What we want is an internal attitude of warm self-critique. The person of Dave Stuart must be able to rationally analyze the performance of Dave Stuart — but to do this, I've got to cultivate a heart where my performance isn't linked with my identity. It's fine to say, “I'm a teacher who does the work of teaching.” It's foolish to say, “I'm a high-performing teacher,” or “I'm an award-winning teacher,” or “I'm a well-loved teacher.” When we do succeed in teaching, we briefly enjoy the fragrance of that success and then, if we're smart, we work very hard to forget it. Teaching careers aren't for collecting accolades — they're for promoting the long-term good of kids, one project or lesson or school year at a time.

When our worth comes from our performance or results, our internal lives come to resemble old, rickety rollercoasters. We become slaves to circumstances rather than professionals at work. We ignore, flee from, or excuse away areas of weakness — not consciously, but instinctively, out of the basic human instinct to protect oneself from harm.

Administrators and coaches, you've got a high calling: to create the conditions in which your teachers can cultivate warm self-critique. Teachers, we've got a high calling, too: to do this cultivation work regardless of what our coaches and administrators do.

There aren't any excuses when you're a warm self-critic because there don't need to be any.

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