It’s Not You, It’s Me: Breaking Up With Perfection

One Friday, I was painting with my kindergarten students. I had saved my favourite activity for the end of the week – teaching the students to use watercolours.

Watercolours on a Friday. Peaceful. Calming. Sitting with the students and watching them ooh and ahh at the colours as they absorbed into the special watercolour paper I bought for them.

Then. This happened.

Watercolour Painting Photo

I saw it coming. I knew not every single student was going to ooh and ahh about these delicate, pretty, vibrant paints I had supplied them with. But I knew others would. For some of my students, this activity was about drawing the best picture and then painting it the best they could, while learning how to use watercolours. For them, it was about using their skills to create a finished product they had planned out in their mind, along with the process of learning to use watercolours. For others, it was solely about the process and experiencing something new and exciting.

Did I give positive feedback to all my students while they did this activity? Yes.

Did I question my students while they painted? Yes.

Did I direct them to the model I had created and carefully placed within their line of sight? Yes.

Did I encourage creativity, precision, and pride in their work? Yes.

Did I check for understanding about what they knew about shapes? Yes.

Did I expect the same finished product of perfection for all my students? No.

And I never do.

This is the part people need to know about teachers: we accept students for who they are, the abilities they bring to the table, and we try our best to take a deep breath about it. We have a soft spot for each of them, just the same. We work so hard at making sure each student is successful in their own way. Baby steps leads up to these successes.

I was by no means loving the fact that the little one in my class basically obliterated the precious and beautiful watercolour paper. I was loving the fact that he was thrilled by mixing all the colours together on the paper (much to the horror of the student beside him!) with a smile on his face.

Now when these works of art go up in the hallway, obviously you’re going to start singing that song from Sesame Street. *One of these things is not like the other*. However, it’s OK that the students experienced this art exploration for different reasons.

Was it disappointing, as a teacher, to see a student paint with so many vigorous movements and with so much force that the paintbrush was shedding like a dog all over the page? YES!

I took a breath and reminded myself of where this student was, as a student in my class. The reason why one student is working on a task could be completely different for the student beside them.

It’s not OK to compare one student’s abilities to another.

It’s not OK to say that student is “worse” than another student.

It’s not OK to expect the same fine motor precision in all students.

It’s not OK to tell a teacher they won’t be getting paid as much this month because this student painted “poorly”.

It’s not OK to assess this student’s abilities by giving them a test about shapes. Or even about the watercolours.

It’s not OK to deny this student the chance to use watercolours because it’s time for reading, Daily 5, and worksheets.

I won’t deny the fact that when I saw this happening, it worried me. I want the student to do well. I want him to use the paintbrush properly. I want him to produce something that is a bit realistic looking. I want him to notice the different colours that are available. I want him to create art that his family will hang proudly in their home because they love it so much. However, at this point in this little guy’s life, this watercolour painting is frame worthy.

All students arrive at our classroom doors having experienced different life events.

Teachers care about these life events and try to provide the best education they can for their students.

I think, just maybe, policy makers, curriculum designers, and even those parents, need to sit down next to a group of kindergarten students and teach them how to use watercolours.