The Tao of Teaching (and Living)

 What is our obligation to our students, to our schools, our state and federal governments during a time of such urgent and often irrational demands on our personal and professional time? We could work all day and all night and never be done, never get it just right. I have, for years, been greatly consoled by this one particular lesson from Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching, especially the wisdom and permission given to me by the last two lines:

Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife
and it will blunt.
Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people's approval
and you will be their prisoner.
Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.

(from the Tao Te Ching, by Lao-tzu Stephen Mitchell translation)

I worked long and long and then still harder to be the best teacher that I can be for them today. I can always be better but I could not have done more. Instead of punishing myself by declaring I am a failure, I look to the notion, so quietly spelled out here, that I can only "do my work, then step back." Then go home and try again to be the best I can be tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow again.

12 Responses to “The Tao of Teaching (and Living)”

  1. Margo KIpps January 19, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    Thanks, Jim, I needed that!

  2. Lorra Wells January 19, 2010 at 6:03 pm

    The quotation you shared is a blessing.

  3. Good timing…it was one of those days! Thanks!

  4. I’ll keep this thought in mind. If only I could remember it always.

  5. Laurie Jones January 19, 2010 at 8:49 pm

    I was just feeling quite lame today and complaining to my husband at the dinner table. It just seems as if I never have enough time to do all that I want to do. Thanks for reminding me that tomorrow is another day!

  6. These words reignited my passion for teaching. Thank you!

  7. Jim–
    One of my reading coaches desperately needs to hear this! She works in a school that is low-performing and under heavy scrutiny by the state. I will make sure she gets it! Thanks.

  8. Tonya Frickey January 20, 2010 at 5:40 am

    Beautiful, Jim. I am saving this one. Thanks for sharing!

  9. owene courtney January 20, 2010 at 6:20 am

    Again I am taken with your words. the timing is always so synchronistic! Today’s blog from you reminds me of today’s words from Hebrews and the meditation I read.
    Hebrews 6:1-12. For God is not unjust; he will not overlook your work and the love that you showed for his sake in serving the saints.
    Even on the worst days of our lives, at our worst moments, as long as we are committed to serving the saints, to showing God’s love for God’s sake, God will bless us.
    We are not called to be the best there ever was. We are simply called to do and give our best in every moment. Some days, what we do and what we give will be marvelous, wonderful, incredible even. And we know that God surely will bless us then, for we will have done such a grand job of it!
    But the same holds true even on our worst days, when what we have to offer, when what we do, isn’t good at all, when we can feel in our bones that what is happening isn’t up to snuff. As long as we are doing the best we can at that given moment, God will bless us as well.
    We are not called to be perfect; we are not called to be better than all the rest. God asks only that we give the best we can at every moment.
    For God has promised not to overlook our work and love.

  10. Kathryn L. Keene M.Ed. January 20, 2010 at 7:41 am

    Wow! A copy for my classroom, my gradebook, my Facebook, and my wallet will be created any moment…thanks…I needed that…

  11. Jean Kennedy-Hubler January 26, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    I really appreciate the inspiration you bring to my day. You know how much teachers need this to keep going. It takes fierce determination to be a good teacher. Thank you for the blogs. They seem to be a reward for making it through the day.. Sometimes your truisms are the only reward we get.

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