I regularly thank heaven that I'm not a perfectionist

I regularly thank heaven that I'm not a perfectionist. It's the quickest way to an early grave if you're a teacher

My little brother is leaving university. He's not asking me for advice about jobs because I always had a vocation, so I obviously know nothing about the jobs market. I work in a school, which isn't the real world, and all my jobs must have been awarded over a cup of tea and a discussion on finger-painting. Also I'm a teacher, and we're in such short supply that I could walk into any school in Britain and instantly be offered a post as headteacher. Once my family had finished with this analysis of the education system, they convinced themselves that I knew nothing about the jobs market and left me out of the discussions.

The only slight value they have found in my questionable expertise has been when it comes to writing job applications. I have written so many letters to businesses that I am seriously thinking of going through with the interviews and experiencing life outside the classroom. The allure of no marking is sometimes too much to resist. Tackling the interview questions has proved more tricky. "What are your weaknesses?" is difficult for my brother, who has to be persuaded that he has any. The correct response to this question is manifold, but most people tend to admit to being a perfectionist. The idea is that most companies would value a perfectionist, so you've cleverly earned yourself more points along the way to your golden hello. Apparently, perfection is something to be encouraged.

Maybe I know nothing about the real world, but if I were appointing a teacher, the last kind of person I'd be looking for would be a perfectionist. You can spot a perfectionist a mile away in the staffroom. They're the ones who spend hours on the photocopier aligning the margins of their worksheets and reducing pages so that they sit exactly centrally on the page. They're the ones who write critical essays in carefully colour-coded pens over every piece of work, even if it's the filler they set because they had to have a class covered on the last day of term. They're the ones who have their textbooks arranged in height order on their shelves, and file every last paper they receive in a see-through wallet so that retrieving anything becomes a slippery nightmare.

I regularly thank heaven I'm not a perfectionist. It's the quickest way to an early grave if you're a teacher. The sheer number of tasks you have to do in such a short time means that somewhere you have to resign yourself to a level of performance that is not perfect. Something has to give and, presuming that you don't want it to be your mental or physical health, it may as well be that perfectly illustrated cover to your new scheme of work. True, it would be nice if every scheme of work had a lovely cover and table of contents with indexes linking the lessons to the relevant worksheets and videos, but overall, is it really necessary?

I suppose the perfectionist answer to that question would be yes, and so they'd be slaving away at school until 10pm, ignoring the schoolkeeper's desperation to lock the gates. Unfortunately, I can't ignore my desperation to watch EastEnders, so I've had to content myself with being less than perfect in my professional life. Somewhere you have to make peace with that ravine between what you know you should do and what you can do. I don't want to be stuck at the bottom, shouting for help.

Gemma Warren is an assistant special needs co-ordinator at a London secondary school. Email: gemmawarren@freenet.co.uk

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