"How many sentences do I need to write to get a good grade?"
One of my third graders asked me this a few weeks ago when we started to write our first big writing assignment...the personal narrative.
"There's not really a certain number of sentences...I just want you to tell the whole story. The beginning, the middle, and the end. I want to be able to picture the story in my head as I read your words and I want you to take your time adding details to help paint a mental picture for your readers."
"Okay," he said, "So how many sentences would that be?"
I wish I could say that it's only 8-year-olds who are asking, "How good is good enough?"
But you and I both know that's not the case.
I think that in most avenues of life, the bare minimum should not be the standard by which we judge ourselves.
For the last four years or so, my teaching partner and I have departmentalized our instruction. He has taught the math and science while I've taught the reading, writing, and social studies.
We were very comfortable in our roles. We worked together to meet the needs of each third grader in our building and we supported each other in our various responsibilities.
To be frank...it worked really well for us.
We had seen growth in our test scores and felt like we were in each of our elements as we shared pertinent information with our third graders, using our own teaching styles and meeting our kids' learning needs.
Last year, a team from our school (including me) visited an elementary building near Columbia, Missouri, to observe how their multi-age model of teaching worked.
We were blown away by so many parts of the program and decided that it was definitely worth looking into for our own school.
We had meetings and planned and talked and spent time hashing out the details of how a program like this would work for our own district.
Ultimately, last winter, we decided to move towards this model for the 2017-2018 school year.
That meant lots of changes for the third grade team.
We were each going to be teaching all subjects.
We were teaming up with two other teachers.
We were moving to a model that would require us to hit both third and fourth grade learning standards during the course of the school year.
It would be a challenge, but we were ready.
We met with our team last spring on several occasions to align our standards, to share resources and teaching strategies, and to decide how our students and teaching responsibilities would be divided.
I was feeling good about the school year going into summer.
And then...our house didn't sell when it was supposed to sell.
We ended up having to jump through a lot of hoops by doing a lot of extra inspections on the farmhouse.
My Dave Ramsey car ("Dave") needed repairs and the air conditioning went out of the Yukon ("Ramsey").
When the first few weeks of the school year came, I didn't feel refreshed or relaxed or prepared in the least.
Nevertheless, we jumped in head first.
Our team refreshed ourselves on everything we had talked about in the spring.
We shared resources and ideas (again) and encouraged one another as we transitioned to this new way of teaching.
I knew the research showed that this model would be the best thing for kids.
I knew that we were capable of carrying out this model of teaching.
I knew that I would hold myself to the same standard of excellence that I had insisted on keeping for my whole teaching career.
And then...the students came.
The first few days were great.
We did lots of team-building activities, where all the third and fourth grade students met together. The four of us teachers were able to play off of each other in conversation about being a good leader and being scholarly.
The first few weeks came and went and we split into our own classrooms, teaching our own subjects, to our own specific group of students.
I started to realize that maybe this wasn't going to come as naturally to me as the years before.
A new curriculum.
A new group of students.
A new school for our own two daughters.
A new house (that we weren't all-the-way moved into yet).
I was overwhelmed with being a wife and a mom and a teacher.
I was questioning my own ability in the classroom.
This had literally never happened to me.
I love my job.
I live to go back to school.
I smile and encourage and show enthusiasm.
It's what I do.
Or what I have done every year of my teaching career so far.
But this year...I felt like I was falling behind from the get-go.
In all areas.
Until one day, a friend of mine said to me, "You know...sometimes you just have to let some things go."
Let some things go?
Sorry, that actually doesn't work for me.
I don't just "let things go".
When I took a moment and really thought about it though...she was right.
Sometimes good enough is actually good enough.
Sometimes laundry folded in baskets at the bottom of the stairs instead of put away into drawers is good enough.
Sometimes a Happy Meal from McDonalds on the way home instead of a home-cooked meal is good enough.
Sometimes putting the toddler to bed after wiping her down with a baby wipe instead of actually giving her a bath is good enough.
Sometimes taking one whole Saturday morning to catch up on grading papers instead of doing it every evening is good enough.
I'm not suggesting that we lower the standard for everything in life to "good enough".
I think sometimes we have to realize that even when we're not feeling able to be our very best, we can still do good in the world.
Even when we're struggling to keep afloat, we can make a difference.
Even when we don't feel like we can reach the standard of excellence that we usually strive for...sometimes good enough is good enough.