While reading Terry McMillan’s Getting to Happy, I came across a passage that resonated with me. On a blind date, one woman asked her male brunch-date the getting-to-know-you-question, “How do you measure happiness?” His response:
“It’s a feeling of calm that comes from the inside. When you figure out what’s important. When you have nothing to prove. Giving everything you do everything you’ve got and being satisfied, regardless of the outcome.”
I love his reply, and yet it doesn’t at all fit with my job duties. I’m an elementary school teacher - on paper. In reality, I’m much more. I’m mother, nurse, therapist, coach, and cheerleader. I teach my students as if they were my children; in fact, I constantly refer to them as “my kids.” I teach each day with 100% of my heart and soul. Yet, teaching isn’t making me happy. Because at the end of the day, my value, my skill, my outcome is measured by my students’ test scores.
CST (California Standards Tests) are a big deal. I tell my students that they’re important, but they are certainly not the most important thing in life. I tell my students that I’m far less concerned with their test scores than with their character. Are they honest? Trustworthy? Kind? Loyal? I told them their friendships will not be determined by their test scores but by their personalities.
So I try to teach it all. Character and geometry. Respect and writing strategies. Compassion and United States history. Tolerance and physical science.
And I celebrate all the little accomplishments. A child with “impulse-control issues” who can hold it together and participate in a day’s lessons. A child who easily shuts down and yet attempts all the day’s classwork. A child who didn’t do an assignment and yet was honest and admitted it to me.
My teaching methods match this character’s definition of happiness. But at the end of the day, I’m not happy. Teaching is a profession that doesn’t have a “fixed outcome” at the end of “my shift.” I often don’t know if I’ve made a difference or gotten through to my students. And yet I try, each day, over and over again. At the end of the day, I go home satisfied that I’ve done all I can do. And yet, the powers that be don’t regard my teaching efforts in that manner.
I will not change who I am, as an individual or a teacher. But, more and more, I’m wondering if my years in the teaching profession are coming to an end. I am not happy with the way I am spending the majority of my days and hours. I would want more for my kids, so why am I settling for less?
Which brings me to another definition of happiness. After the first character defines happiness, his date replies:
“When you’re willing to surrender to goodness and you. Give yourself permission to feel it. Not holding yourself hostage for making mistakes. Doing what you love. Doing for others. Learning to cherish the beauty of right now. When you can make yourself smile and laugh without depending on anybody else.”