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Perfectly Imperfect

MATC Synthesis Paper

In partial fulfillment of the requirements for the
Master of Arts Degree in Teaching and Curriculum
Department of Teacher Education, Michigan State University

Megan N. Salada
PID A39 41 3408
July 8, 2015

Perfectly Imperfect
I completed my undergraduate degree at Michigan State University [MSU] with a 4.0
grade point average [GPA]. 35 university courses. 115 credits. Countless quizzes, exams,
papers, and projects. A typical syllabus distinguishes a grade of 4.0 with descriptions such as
“excellent” (SME 430), “outstanding and exemplary work” (TE 401), “performed exceptionally
and exceeded expectations” (LLT 346). The accomplishment earned me a Board of Trustees’
Award for “having the highest scholastic average at the close of [my] last semester in attendance
at Michigan State University” (Orlando & Parker, 2011). Four years later, the MSU College of
Education (2011) news article still turns up as one of the top results when you search my name
on popular search engines. People were impressed. They called it a perfect GPA.
One could surmise from my perfect 4.0 that I was well prepared for my career ahead.
Future success was undoubted. What I learned in the years ahead was a lesson in perfection. By
definition, the word perfect means “without flaw, fault, or blemish; without error” (Webster’s
online dictionary, n.d.). Despite a perfect undergraduate GPA, my journey to becoming the
educator I am today was far from perfect. The path was strewn with fault and error, as is my
current position and, I anticipate, any path I traverse in the future. I have learned that perfect has
no place in the field of education. No lesson is perfect; no teacher is perfect; no education is
perfect. Teaching is a perfectly imperfect act.
Perfect Lessons
My study of becoming a teacher began with lesson preparation and implementation, the
smallest entity encompassed within a teacher’s responsibilities. From an outsider’s perspective,
individual lessons seem like the foundation of good teaching. It is, after all, what we do day in
and day out. Perfect lessons make for perfect teachers. From my novice viewpoint, I felt that if I

perfected the technique of planning and implementing great lessons, I would be a great teacher.
This belief guided much of my undergraduate work and beginning graduate work.
During my internship year, my first experience taking on multiple responsibilities of fulltime classroom teaching, I discovered that good teaching is much more than the implementation
of well-designed individual lessons. My graduate work prompted me to connect big ideas within
a content area into a cohesive unit of study (Artifact 1, TE 801 Unit Plan; Goals 1, 2; Standards
1, 2, 4). In a first grade mathematics unit on the study of coins, as well as other units I planned
throughout my internship, I strategically sequenced multiple well-planned lessons linked by
overarching goals and interspersed with various modes of assessment (Standard 2). I developed
and collected pre-assessment data to plan meaningful instruction tailored to the specific needs of
my students. I anticipated and planned for modifications and accommodations to both support
and enrich instruction for the diverse students in my class. I even scripted individual lessons in
order to think through the tasks, transitions, and anticipated solutions my students would engage
in. In a sense, it was the perfect unit.
Despite a considerable amount of time, effort, data-collection and reflection, I discovered
that my unit was far from perfect. Assessments revealed that only 75% and 83% of my students
met the two main learning goals of the unit. While admittedly a significant improvement from
pre-assessment statistics, certainly my planning and implementation were not “without flaw,
fault, or blemish; without error” (Webster’s online dictionary, n.d.). In my reflection on a
specific lesson I implemented within the unit, I noted “although this was an effective task and
many students benefitted from it, I still found after the first week that students struggled to
remember the names of the coins and connect the names to those physical features we had
observed” (Artifact 1, TE 801 Unit Plan, p. 33). After implementing the unit, I proposed no less

than four major changes to improve the unit. Nearly four years later, my intuition tells me that
even with those proposed changes, my unit would still fall short of perfection. There will always
be alternative strategies, instructional decisions, and tasks that could have been employed.
Effective teaching requires strategic selection, implementation, and reflection of instructional
methods to build upon one’s teaching repertoire and guide future planning and instruction – not a
planbook filled with perfect lessons.
I have also come to understand that no single lesson is perfect for every (or any) learner
and it is the teacher’s responsibility to create relevant and meaningful learning opportunities that
use individual students’ strengths to further advance areas of difficulty. My work with a second
grade student for the TE 846 Literacy Learner Analysis (Artifact 7; Goals 1, 2; Standards 1, 2, 4,
5) allowed me to focus my attention on the complex needs of a single student as I assessed,
planned, implemented, and reflected upon a sequence of lessons to address her literacy needs.
While working with this student for just a short timeframe, I was able to plan instruction that led
to measureable gains in her literacy learning. The project shed light on the challenges and
benefits of differentiating instruction for a single student. In a classroom setting, no lesson will
ever perfectly suit the 20-30 learners involved. In order to effect maximum student learning and
accomplished teaching within any lesson, teachers must work to differentiate instruction for
individuals and small groups based upon demonstrated need.
My experience in the field has also led me to realize that even the lessons in published
curriculum materials are not perfect. Upon obtaining my first teaching position, my district
adopted a new mathematics curriculum. The first year of implementation was difficult with little
support from district leaders, opposition from teachers, and an underdeveloped curriculum. The
lessons provided were confusing at first glance and a drastic departure from previous curriculum

implemented within the district. Once again, I found myself with less-than-perfect lessons and
units. During the second year of implementation, I was asked to be a part of the Math
Curriculum Team in order to support teacher learning and success with the new curriculum. Part
of that work entailed creating teacher-friendly documents to outline the lesson introduction and
goals, assessment opportunities, and additional supplements and extensions for each lesson in the
given curriculum (Artifact 4, Mathematics Curriculum Field; Goals 2, 3; Standards 2, 6). I had
to thoroughly analyze the units in order to identify lesson objectives, connect lessons, and create
a shared language for mathematics instruction at my grade level. Involvement in this work
allowed me to apply my unit-planning skills to adapt and improve upon curriculum materials for
use by teachers within my district.
Whether teacher-created or scripted in published curriculum, lessons are never perfect –
not on paper nor upon implementation. As a teacher, I have stopped trying to plan the perfect
lesson or the perfect unit. I perceive the imperfections as learning opportunities to expand my
own repertoire for improvement in the teaching of future lessons. My goal is always to plan
relevant and purposeful lessons by applying my own current knowledge and judgment to make
the best instructional decisions for the individual learners I instruct.
Perfect Teaching
My tendency to strive for perfection prompted my ultimate goal of becoming a perfect
teacher, an expert in the field, effective in all areas and confident in my ability to teach any
student. This was a rather daunting task given the shortcomings I realized upon entering the
field. I was placed in a first grade classroom for my internship and subsequently hired to teach
first grade in the same district. I never had any desire to teach lower elementary. Throughout
my undergraduate study, I was certain that the only grade I wanted to teach was fourth grade.

Setting foot in a first grade classroom for the first time since I was six years old proved to be an
overwhelming and humbling experience. In spite of my extensive preparation, my list of
shortcomings was a mile long. I had limited knowledge of early childhood development; I was
clueless about how to teach a child to read; I had few strategies to support struggling writers; I
did not know how to manage a classroom of 27 students. It would not be a year of perfect
teaching.
Part of my annual district evaluation process requires me to formulate an Individualized
Development Plan [IDP] at the beginning of each year (Artifact 3, IDP Field; Goals 1, 2;
Standards 1, 4, 5). The IDP helps me to focus my teaching goals on specific components of
Charlotte Danielson’s (2013) Framework for Teaching. I struggled at first to choose and plan
realistic, but important goals. My first year, recognizing that I had many areas of weakness, I
selected far too many lofty goals and struggled to focus my attention on a specific aspect of my
practice. In subsequent years, I learned to narrow the focus of my selected goals based upon
conversations with my administrator and my own perceived areas of weakness. The IDP process
of selecting goals, formulating an action plan, collecting data and evidence regarding my goals,
and engaging in formal reflections with my administrator twice per year has helped me to
improve my own practice.
Even after over two years of full-time teaching, I continued to feel ineffective in my
writing instruction and was excited to enroll in TE 848: Writing Assessment and Instruction,
PreK-5. The course prompted me to conduct action research within my classroom on a chosen
writing topic for the purpose of improved content and pedagogical knowledge as well as student
learning (Artifact 5, TE 848 Teaching Project; Goals 1, 2, 3; Standards 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). As I
considered potential topics for the Teaching Project, I reflected upon my own weaknesses as a

writing teacher and areas in which I had observed my second grade students struggle. I heavily
researched argumentative writing in order to plan a unit based upon evidence-based practices and
my own hypotheses about student learning. I collected and analyzed student work throughout
implementation of the Teaching Project in order to monitor student learning and the effects of my
instruction. The result was dramatic growth in my own knowledge of argumentative writing
instruction as well as observed progress in my students’ writing skills.
The act of inquiring into my own instructional practices through annual IDPs (Artifact 3)
and the TE 848 Teaching Project (Artifact 5) helped me to acknowledge and act upon my own
shortcomings. I now realize that I will always have shortcomings. My goal of becoming a
perfect teacher was an unattainable one. While I still find myself at times with an eye on that
goal of “perfect teaching,” I know that true professional success lies not in attainment of “perfect
teaching,” but in the “reflective, systematic inquiry” (Standard 4) of specific and important
teaching practices for the purpose of greater teaching and learning. Recognition of
imperfections in one’s practice and efforts to ameliorate weaknesses in one’s teaching repertoire
is what makes a great teacher.
Perfect Education
I encountered early on in my career the flawed educational systems that affect and
continually alter the day-to-day classroom environment. I have always refrained from
involvement in politics and remained rather passive in political conversations. In my
undergraduate coursework, I learned about various political reforms and policies throughout
educational history in the United States; however, it was not until I entered the field and began
teaching that I felt the direct impact of those reforms on my professional work. Special
education mandates required that I document detailed observations and interventions for my

students certified with special needs; district policies required me to attend ineffective first-year
teacher development courses; state mandates required documentation of formal evaluations of
my effectiveness. For good or bad, policies govern much of the teaching and learning that
occurs in classrooms today.
My first graduate coursework took place on a study abroad experience in Cape Town,
South Africa. Prior to departure, I engaged in a study of South Africa’s educational history
through a reading of Elusive Equity (Fiske & Ladd, 2004). In my critical analysis of major
issues in South Africa’s educational reform (Artifact 2, TE 815 Critical Analysis; Goal 1;
Standards 1, 3), I interpreted the United States’ educational system in a new light. I was
surprised to make connections between the educational struggles of two ostensibly different
countries as I examined equality in schools and the challenges of implementing educational
reforms. I concluded my paper with an eye toward future reform, writing, “hopefully policy
makers will take these past issues into account and improve education reform in both countries
[South Africa and the United States]” (Artifact 2, TE 815 Critical Analysis, p. 4). What I had not
yet realized was my own role and the role of other educators in the development of such reform.
As I explored argumentative writing for the TE 848 Teaching Project (Artifact 5), I
became interested in the legislation that my students were studying and forming arguments for or
against. While I was teaching my eight-year-old students to effect change in big ways by writing
letters and arguing for their beliefs, I realized that I was apprehensive about doing the very same
thing. In an effort to expand my own writing experiences as part of the TE 848 Genre
Exploration Project (Artifact 6; Goals 1, 3; Standards 3, 5, 6), I chose to draft a letter to my state
representative to voice my opinion against a piece of legislation to be introduced before the
House. This was certainly my first experience taking a stand on educational policy and helped

me to appreciate my own voice in policies and mandates that affect my teaching and my
students’ learning.
Teachers are continually overwhelmed and frustrated by the constant change and
educational sanctions imposed by authority figures outside the field. While no policy will ever
result in a perfect educational system, great teachers must be the voice behind the decisions that
impact teaching and learning. Education will continue to evolve with changes in time and
students and politics. Teachers and others directly involved in the teaching and learning of
students must take an active role in that evolution to ensure that policies reflect the changing
needs of the classroom experience and lead to continued advancement in the education provided
to our students.
Conclusion
Imperfect has a rather negative connotation. Synonymous with words like flawed,
broken, deficient, it implies the absence of a necessary ingredient. Yet, another list of synonyms
unravels an entirely different connotation, revealing the capacity for possibility: unfinished,
incomplete, inexact (Collins English thesaurus, n.d.). Teaching is never finished nor complete
nor exact. There will always be the possibility of more. Teaching is imperfect.
Perhaps I was a perfect student, but I am not, nor ever will be, a perfect teacher. With a
full career in education ahead of me, I can think of many adjectives to describe the teacher I hope
to be: innovative, reflective, thoughtful, effective, engaging, knowledgeable. Perfect is not one of
them. True teaching perfection is entwined with imperfection, attainable only by the recognition
of and response to imperfections in education and the unlimited possibility for growth and
change.

References
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Princeton, NJ: The Danielson Group. Retrieved from http://danielsongroup.org/
Fiske, E. B., & Ladd, H.F. (2004). Elusive equity: Education reform in post-apartheid South
Africa. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.
imperfect. (n.d.). In Collins English thesaurus. Retrieved Jun 27, 2015 from
http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english-thesaurus/imperfect
Michigan State University College of Education. (2011, April 22). Education students honored
for 4.0 GPAs. Retrieved from http://edwp.educ.msu.edu/news/2011/education-studentshonored-for-4-0-gpas/
Orlando, J. & Parker, K. (2011, April 15). Board of trustees honors 33 students for academic
excellence. MSU Today. Retrieved from http://msutoday.msu.edu/news/2011/board-oftrustees-honors-33-students-for-academic-excellence/
perfect [Def. 1]. (n.d.). In Webster’s online dictionary. Retrieved June 21, 2015 from
http://www.webster-dictionary.org/definition/perfect