Daily Archives: November 5, 2009

Competition Is Good

My first teaching job out of college was at a small, private, college prep school. I worked for a very wise headmaster. The principal at a local public school was interviewed in the paper and was comparing her school to our school and slamming us in the process. She said things that weren’t true. She said things that were true, but being small and never able to get our hands on the public money she was receiving, we’d never be able to compete. I was highly irritated that our school was getting such bad press as a result. We were a great school! How could she say these things?

Our headmaster said to me in his very best Michael Douglas (Wall Street) voice, “Jane, Competition is good!”

Competition keeps us on our toes. It ensures that we’re striving to be better.  As long as it doesn’t overtake our sensibilities, competition encourages us to be the best we can be.

Unless you have a son like mine.

Because we homeschooled our daughter for 4 years everyone just assumed we would homeschool the boys. Nope. Ain’t gonna happen. I knew this from the time they were infants. They are 10 months apart in age and ever since #2son was born #1son would do everything in his power to outshine him. Competitive doesn’t even begin to describe.

And after these few days of staying home from school I’m convinced we made the right decision. And I’m even more pleased with the school we chose for them.

We chose to go the Montessori route. It is a non-competitive, child-centered, (mostly) self-directed way of learning. I put the word mostly in parentheses because many people think my kids just wander around a classroom and spend the entire day playing with beads if they want to. The teacher in a Montessori classroom is a guide and makes sure that my boys work on a little of everything. Not a problem in #1son’s case. He races to complete everything he can get his hands on before anyone else.

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Which posed a problem missing this many days of school. The first day he was out he asked me about 20 times, “How many days am I going to be home from school?” I smiled. “Until you’re better,” I’d say. My ego stroked. He loves being home with Mommy, I thought.  My sweet little boy and I are going to have such great bonding time these next few days. But the next morning he woke up and said he’d had a bad dream. “I dreamt I missed FOUR WHOLE DAYS of school!” Trying to coax the reason out of him, and fulling expecting to further feed my ego, I asked why he was so anxious about not going to school? “Because!” he declared, “I’m not doing my work! Ethan and Liza will fill their cubbies up before me! I haven’t finished my chart! My chart will be empty when I get back! What if Jayden gets to learn a new lesson before me? I HAVE to get back to school!!!”

So much for wanting to be home alone with Mommy.

Luckily, his dear, sweet, teacher called us yesterday afternoon to check on him. I told her his concerns. She asked me to put him on the phone.

I don’t know what she said to him but it worked. He calmed down. His competitive spirit is now in a weakened but healthy state.

Yes, competition is good. But we all have a stockpile of memories or situations when competition is paralyzing, cruel or unkind. The trick is to live in the balance. 

It looks like #1son and I have our work cut out for us!


Filed under Lessons Learned