Till the Last Pop > Fighting Perfection

On most Sunday evenings Annelle can be heard calling out, “fend for yourself”, code phrase for “grab yourself a bag of popcorn”. Having now worked hundreds of concessions stands over the past ten years during high school and middle school sporting events where popping popcorn was a concession mainstay, one would think I’ve mastered the craft… Yet, popping a bag of popcorn can be tricky business in a microwave.

Most microwaves have varying automatic popcorn settings (most of the times these automatic settings tend to either burn the popcorn or leave an abundance of unpopped kernels). Then one could look at the bag for popping directions, which equally provides a healthy range of time options (small print on the bag warns that the popping time is dependent on numerous factors to include microwave type, wattage output, volume of microwave, etc…). The last method of resort is to listen to the popping sound while it cooks in the microwave.

This is about nearest way to ensure “perfection” in the microwave popping process. Yet, again though it is more art than science. Based on a mixture of signals such as, the overall appearance of the bag through the small microwave window, the receding crescendo wave of popping kernels, the slow fading sound of butter fizzing, or the intoxicating smell wafting from the microwave vents.

Yet, even after mastering these signals and recognizing their relationship to each other there still seems to be a fair amount of unpopped kernels (10 – 15 to be exact)  left at the bottom of the bag. As someone who is fairly exacting in his ways (prefer this phrasing over ‘perfectionist’) this drives me absolutely bonkers!

Wouldn’t it be awesome to simply know precisely the amount of time required that it takes to pop a bag of popcorn that ensures each kernel is popped and the bag is “perfect”?!

I tried it once…got to the point where I had only one unpopped kernel left…and I burned most of the bag in the process. After, Annelle, wouldn’t let me trade the bag in to try again on a new bag, I had time to contemplate while munching on the unforgettable, aftertaste inducing, burnt popcorn.

Trying to pop to perfection was actually a recipe for disaster. Not only did I ruin the bag I hoped to perfect, but my popcorn popping ego took a hit too! Too often our greatest enemy in education is the flawed concept of “perfection”. Take a peek at the scenario played out in “Life’s Perfect Microwave” below.


We want to be the “perfect” teacher with the “perfect” classroom, teaching the “perfect” lesson to “perfectly” behaved, “perfect” children, we want to hear a “perfect” report on these “perfect” classroom experiences from our “perfect” administrator, who passes along “perfect” feedback from “perfect” parents. We leave our “perfect” school to our “perfect” home where we are the “perfect” spouse to our “perfect” significant other, playing with our “perfect” children and “perfect” pets, and as we look back on our “perfect” day we think…hmmm “How perfect.”


It might be easy to make light of the above scenario as ridiculous. As it should be it is ridiculous…so why do I fall so easily for the trap? Why do so many of us fall for the trap of perfection. We so desperately crave for a formula that will give us consistent results, here’s the bad and great news, nothing like that exists because it would be impossible to account for all the diverse people, diverse communities, diverse factors that exist…so what do we do? Do we relent and not care? No, I feel strongly the answer is living and teaching with grace. Grace for yourself and grace towards others. We are in this together, why should we want not have each other’s backs?

Teaching as is living is much more an art than a science. The aspects we as educators struggle most with cannot be taught in a college preparation class…they are overcome and learned on the job in the classroom through life experiences that teach us in real, earth-rocking ways.

Do your best each day, but don’t exhaust your best in the classroom. Leave some of your best for your spouse and children who so desperately want to spend time with you. Our lives and our teaching will leave unpopped kernels, there is no ‘perfect” automatic setting for life. Anyways, is that something we would really want?

Life in such a “perfect” world would be programmed, colorless, stale…think of all the books we read in our youth: The Giver or 1984; “perfect” is never perfect and even if it were; there would still be a group of us who would resist.

Unpopped is not failure or lack; it is life. Enjoy, embrace, and love the opportunities and people the Lord has placed in our lives and do so with artful abandon. And impress everyone with your mad skills and knowledge gleaned here at popping some microwave popcorn! 😉

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