Tales from new teachers

Perils of perfectionism

Tes Editorial

The problem

After Easter I found myself becoming quite depressed about the level of progress I had made this year. I looked at other people in the department and compared myself and was getting quite hung up on how far away I seemed from their level. It started to affect my lessons as I was always striving to match what I believed the other teachers' levels to be and, as everyone knows, trying too hard rarely has positive results. The students picked up on it; my ideas were too obscure to be really effective. I wanted to push the boundaries and be the "exciting" teacher but I was starting to forget the basics. I ended up in a mess and sought the advice of my mentor.

The options

My mentor laughed at first, which was a little disconcerting, but once she explained I found myself laughing too. She told me the goals I was setting myself were far too high.

She said that being a perfectionist was a strength but it could also be damaging as the amount of time I was spending on planning lessons was counterproductive.

She explained that I had progressed really well across the year, everyone was happy with my progress and they thought I was an excellent teacher. The bit that made her laugh was my perception of what was going on in other classrooms.

She said that there were, indeed, fantastic teachers in the department who were doing great things. One was amazing at behaviour management, another could teach Shakespeare in a way of which the rest could only dream, while one had the most difficult children reciting Wilfred Owen voluntarily.

However, contrary to my perception, all these teachers were not excelling at all those things. My mentor found this hilarious. She said I should stop paying so much attention to staffroom boasts.

The result

The chat was really helpful and I was glad I had raised my concerns. It was nice to hear that people thought I was doing a good job and useful to know that the boasts of the staffroom were not the whole truth.

I decided to find my own niche rather than trying to do everything exceptionally. My aim was to do everything well but be really good at one thing in particular. This will, I hope, channel my perfectionism into one area, meaning that my obsessional nature does not spill into my overall work.

As yet, I'm not sure what this area may be, but I am really passionate about 20th-century drama and so I am considering focusing on this first of all. Of course, I am not completely over my self-confidence issues, but I think I have things in place now that will help me move forward.

The writer is in her NQT year at a school in the West of England

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