Enlightened selfishness is one of the philosophies that keeps my life ticking along. It is the art of being able to think of your own needs even while meeting the needs of others. It works for me as a woman, a wife, a mother, and a teacher.
As a woman, I’m the sort of person who, when we go to a Chinese restaurant with a group of friends, will help coordinate the placing of orders so that everyone gets a dish they like. Only my husband will notice, with a knowing smile, that somehow all of the dishes that arrive are ones that I like. As a wife, I don’t want to do all the work at home and end up feeling resentful of my husband, so I don’t. ( It helps that I chose wisely; my husband is the sort of man who does as much around the house and with the kids as I do.) If I need a break, I will take it. If I need sleep, I will figure out a way to get some. If I am so hungry I feel like I am going to faint, I will feed myself first, and then make lunch for the kids.
As a parent, I am a follower of The Three Martini Playdate, by Christie Mellors, rather than a fan of Dr. Sears. I try to emulate Lenore Skenazy (the Free Range parent) rather than Mayim Bialik, attachment parenting mother extraordinaire. (Please note that I have no criticism of Dr. Sears or Ms. Bialik. I think they are probably great parents, and respect their right to parent they way they feel works best. I just don’t particularly want to do everything they do.) I love my children very much, but I do not put their needs above mine 24/7. Perhaps as a result, my children are independent, resourceful, and confident.
Enlightened selfishness helps me as a teacher, as well. I do not confuse what the children want with what they need. And I keep what I need to be a good, happy, successful teacher at the forefront of my mind.
If I am trying to read a story and one of my four year olds wanders off to play in the house corner, I do not think to myself, “oh, poor kid, he’s not ready to sit and listen to a story yet, so I will just let him do what he wants to do.” Instead, I think of what will happen if I let him do what he wants (house corner will be a mess, he will be disruptive and other children will be watching him instead of listening to the story, other children will think, “hey, I don’t have to follow routines, I can just do whatever I want whenever I want,” and cause disruptions regularly in the future, the child will not get practice sitting down and listening to a story, etc.) and I firmly but gently insist that the child sit down and join us for story time.
It’s better for me as a teacher if the children learn how to sit and listen, but it’s also good for them. I hold them to a high standard of behavior (not to mention a high standard for achievement), I teach them step by step how to achieve that standard, and I build in strong, familiar routines that make reaching that standard easy for the whole class. A few months into the year, rather than have story time be a disruptive, difficult and disjointed part of the day, my class will be sitting with me, listening carefully, and discussing books thoughtfully. My job is easier, yes, but their learning is intensified.
How about you? Does enlightened selfishness play a part in your day as a teacher or a parent?