My Second Grade Teacher Taught Me a Life Lesson I Still Use

Teacher with students


da "Teaching & Learning Blog PreK-12 Education"

Shannon Kizer

From second through fifth grade, I attended a weekly class for highly capable students taught by Ruthann Wilson, my favorite teacher. I always enjoyed school because I was eager to learn, but I truly loved the day each week when I boarded the bus to Pinewood Elementary, the centrally-located school where our class met. Each year had a different theme for our class activities, such as Building Bridges or Medieval Days and Knights. Starting in third grade, each student completed an independent study project on whichever topic he or she wanted, in addition to our annual themes. I still have several mementos saved in a scrapbook from my projects on puppies, Oahu, and American Sign Language.

Ms. Wilson knew her students needed engaging year-long themes and independent projects to foster and enhance our intelligence and creativity. She also knew this intelligence and creativity went hand-in-hand with what I now call “perfection/procrastination paralysis.” My classmates and I often had exciting-yet-grandiose ideas about our projects and assignments, and we would become frustrated when we couldn’t execute these ideas exactly as we envisioned them. Since we were elementary school students, we didn’t yet understand why perfectionism was a double-edged sword or why we often procrastinated when we felt paralyzed by perfection we couldn’t achieve.

I am thankful Ms. Wilson did understand this all-too-common issue. To free our paralyzed minds, she taught us this mantra: “FPP: Finished Product Perfect. The time I have, the skills I have, and the materials I have right now.” This saying was posted in multiple places in our classroom, so we could all see it regularly. When we would take class time to work individually on projects or assignments, Ms. Wilson would often say “FPP” to a student who was sitting at our class table ruminating on multiple ideas but not making much progress. On an assignment sheet from one of my scrapbook items is this sentence: “All work is due, FPP, on January 22.” We even recited the FPP mantra as a class every so often to remind ourselves not to get stuck in that perfection/procrastination paralysis (PPP). Instead, each student needed to do the best he or she could with the time, skills, and materials he or she currently possessed.

I’ll admit I haven’t fully conquered the perfection/procrastination paralysis. I love to plan big ideas, and I can still get hung up when it comes to execution. However, I’m much better than I might have been without Ms. Wilson, her classes, and FPP. When I find myself feeling the PPP—in high school, in college, in graduate school, and throughout life—I tell myself “FPP.” Then I get started on the task at hand with the time I have, the skills I have, and the materials I have right now.


Shannon Bartlett Kizer, has worked for Smarthinking’s writing department since 2009 and is a lead tutor. She completed her undergraduate work at Washington State University and her graduate work at Chapman University. While at Chapman, she studied online tutoring and presented her findings as part of a panel at the national Sigma Tau Delta conference. Her writing has been featured on, in Washington State Magazine, and in several literary journals. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, Ben, and their cat, Moyer—far too close to Powell’s bookstores for the sake of household finances. When she’s not doing something writing-related, she enjoys baseball, astrology, crossword puzzles, and studying abnormal psychology.