I've been thinking about this diagram a lot lately, especially since moving to teaching online, aka The Great Transition, aka The Online Odyssey. This diagram never came up in my education program and not a single supervisor or administrator has referred to it that I can recall. But I think it speaks to an incredibly important point at the core of our collective vision of teaching.
The diagram is known as the project management triangle, a decidely not-creative name for something that definitely applies to creative work like artmaking or teaching, though one of its aliases is the "iron triangle" which is much cooler but iron isn't really our go to in contemporary society. There are many versions but I like this one because it uses the CMYK color wheel (subtractive color) used for printing so it's a more artful representation of the concept. The point of the triangle is to illustrate that every project or endeavor has constraints and these constraints are linked like fingers playing Cat's Cradle. The elemental constraints of a project according to the triangle are time, cost, and scope or quality. In graphic design, for example, I've seen this diagram used to relate how clients often demand Utopia, meaning they want a quality product produced cheaply and quickly. Anyone who has worked in a restaurant has probably come across people with this attitude towards their food order on a regular basis. To counter such attitudes and help manage client expectations, the iron triangle may be invoked: "Choose two". As a result, the client can better understand that under normal circumstances, something quickly and cheaply produced will likely be low quality (e.g. your plastic spoon), while someone that is produced cheaply and of high quality will be expensive (e.g., an overnite delivery), and finally that it is possible to produce something of high quality cheaply, but it will take time. It is an insufficient model, ultimately, as it is not perfectly realistic. Trading between constraints is not always possible depending on the situation and external factors not shown can influence results. Nevertheless, it is a useful starting point for understanding our recent global transition to online teaching and learning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As teachers, we know that folks often have unrealistic expectations of us, especially right now. There seemed to be a general perception that pivoting an entire education system overnite would actually go smoothly, despite the lack of support, preparation, and resources. Over and over, the expectation seemed to be that this transition should be fast, cheap, and, above all, good. But that was impossible. Nevertheless, we often internalize those expectations, adopting these unrealistic expectations for ourselves. Do we turn around and do that to our students? There is a difference between thinking 'the impossible is possible' versus 'the impossible is probable' or 'practical'.
I call this "100% thinking" but perfectionism works just as well. It's implied every time you hear that 'gOtTa GiVe 110%!!!' mentality. Obviously, utopian thinking can be harmful if not outright dangerous for both to us and our Ss. Utopia is not just a place that doesn't exist - it SHOULDN'T EXIST. After all, any one person's utopia might be another person's dystopia. But it seems like utopian thinking is the norm in education - often encouraged if not demanded by our workplaces and field in general. It can seem even cultish at times. We're told over and over that teaching is a calling, and of course, if it's a calling (a religious concept rooted in self-sacrifice), then sacrificing everything is not only 'good' but expected. After all, most if not all of us got into this career to do good, right? So we burn the candle at both ends, thinking that's what it means to do 'a good job' while giving everything we have and ending up not keeping enough for ourselves, just to end burning out or worse. Of course teaching cannot be selfish. It's not about me. But we also can't afford to be completely selfless - for our own and our family's sake's. It has to be about us - all of us, which includes caring for ourselves as well as others. And unrealistic expectations help no one. I don't think we talk about this enough as teachers - that we have two little hands, 24 hours in a day, and only so much energy to give. These are our creative constraints. We can do a lot with that. Perhaps more than most could dream of. But we still have our limits. After all, a painting has boundaries. We should as well. Because after all, art is about being human and humanity, ours as well as our students', must be at the core of what we do. We can do so much! But we can only do so much!! Can't we take pride in all the good we do, without feeling like it is never enough? Because we are enough. We're here. We're trying.
What do you think? Have you been guilty of trying to provide teaching that is good, fast, and cheap? Have you backed off of utopian thinking in favor of more realistic aspirations? How do you practice self-care and maintain realistic expectations for yourself and others?
I'll mostly be blogging about my experiences teaching. I teach a class online right now called Teaching K12 Art Online where I'll be exploring art online with art teachers. I also currently teach a (formerly?) face-to-face course called Visual Culture: Investigating Diversity & Social Justice which is an art, critical writing, and research course for undergrads. Before this, I taught a class called Art Curriculum & Concepts for Teachers where I was experimenting with cooperative & creative teaching integrating art and "going gradeless" with preservice early childhood education majors.