Friday, October 28, 2011

Embracing Frustration

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Talk to any teacher and you will find a diverse assortment of adjectives they use to describe their work.  Among those terms, you are likely to hear "frustrating" used at some point.  For some, frustration is among the more negative (or at least less welcomed) aspects of teaching.  On the other hand, your frustration may also indicate an important part of good teaching: you care.

Consider a few scenarios.  In each, frustration (at least some degree of it) emerges.  For each, examine the situation by asking these questions:

  • At whom is the teacher's frustration directed?
  • Why is it directed there?
  • What can the frustrated person do to relieve frustration?

Scenario 1:  An "A" student receives a "C" on his exam.
Scenario 2:  You are experiencing technical issues when trying to set up a presentation.
Scenario 3:  Standardized test scores for the year are not as good as you had hoped.
Scenario 4:  Your colleagues fail to embrace your idea for a innovative curriculum change.
Scenario 5:  Your lawn is not as green as your neighbor's.

As you reflected on these 5 scenarios, many reasons for the frustration may have come to mind.  In scenarios 1-4, hopefully the fact that the outcome mattered to you was a major component to that frustration.  Congratulations!  You care.

Number 5 may frustrate you, and that is fine, but I included it to highlight how things that we really don't care about normally do not frustrate us (and maybe I'm revealing a little about my yard - or my neighbor's!).

Now, what will you do to relieve the frustration?  

Do you give up on the idea?  Do you adjust your expectations?  Do you enlist the help of others?  Do you push on in the same way and hope for better results?

Consider this.

If you give up, did it really matter?  How important was that outcome?  Maybe you now realize that your impact on that item is not as direct as you thought.  Remember the Serenity Prayer: 

God grant me the serenity 
to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference. 

Following the same course and hoping for better results may add to your frustration, but it will likely be frustration directed at other things masking as the results.  Remember Einstein's definition of insanity: 

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Your best course of action may be to enlist the support of others, reflect on your goals and action plans, and make appropriate adjustments.  Once you do so, it is sometimes a good sign to realize that what your efforts were misplaced and are best directed in a slightly different direction.

If you care, you will experience frustration.  Learn from it and move forward having earned the benefits of focused, passion-driven effort.

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