I chanted my aims like a mantra

5th October 2001 at 01:00
I visualised myself clearly, every morning, applying a straight line of eyeliner in the ladies' loo. And it has come to nothing

It is a new term. I will put on make-up every morning before school and not stagger into registration looking like the Bride of Frankenstein. I will make myself a healthy and nutritious lunch every evening and keep it in a pristine Tupperware container. I will plan all my lessons at least a week in advance. I will have long-term plans, medium-term plans, lesson-by-lesson plans, five-minute plans, contingency plans, emergency plans, and plans in case I don't have a plan. I will plan myself into oblivion.

I will drink two litres of water a day. I will stay after school and do things that are meaningful, relevant and pedagogically valid. I will not hang around gossiping and generally driving people bonkers. I will work through my lunch break, and be unfailingly kind and generous to any child who happens to knock on the door when I'm trying to finish my marking.

These were my new initiatives for the year. Sharp-eyed teachers of the national literacy strategy will notice my use of the past tense. Feel free to photocopy this, put in on an overhead transparency and use it as a starter activity on tenses. It may be the only useful thing that comes of my initiatives. We're a month into the new term, and every one of the buggers has fallen by the wayside. I've been into self-help books recently. I read somewhere that if you have clear aims and objectives, if you write down your goals and aspirations, they stand a greater chance of success.

Perhaps I overdosed on neuro-linguistic programming this summer. I chanted my aims like a mantra. I visualised myself clearly, every morning, applying a straight line of eyeliner in the ladies' loo. And it has come to nothing. I am, apparently, the only one of the six million readers of my self-help book (so it says on the cover) who is a failure. I have obviously overloaded my circuits somewhere and all I have achieved is programming myself into a hefty dose of guilt and self-hatred.

Of course, it's easy to be enthusiastic about new initiatives before you start them. In fact, the longer you focus on them beforehand, the more you convince yourself you're actually doing them. New initiatives are the death of all your start-of-term hopes, and the realisation that you will probably spend this year exactly how you spent last year - bereft of eye-liner, time and patience.

Of course, your own initiatives never really stand much chance in the welter of those imposed from above at the start of every term. "Initiative overload" seems to be the new phrase in meetings and staffrooms, and we've got so many running at once that it's easy to let your own slip. Perhaps if I'd have packaged mine in a shiny new folder with a teaching video and massive volumes of accompanying reading matter, I would have stood a better chance of success.

Teachers are so susceptible to new initiatives, especially at the start of term. Our working year is structured to allow not one, not two, but three attempts at failure, and that's not even counting the mini-initiatives that you can start after half-term. Every lesson is a chance at renewal, at correcting that mistake you think you made last time. Add to that potent cocktail the fact that we're all so convinced that our teaching needs improving when in fact it doesn't, and you have a perfect environment of self-flagellatory, self-improving fervour in which initiatives will thrive.

I remember it from my own time in school. At the start of every term we would listen while our teachers outlined a brave new world of lessons to come. In English, we would start every lesson by keeping a reading journal of our personal reading from the night before. In history, we would bring in newspaper articles that reflected current political situations, and we would ponder their roots in the past. In German, we were all given German names by our new (and naive) teacher who didn't realise that it was hard enough learning 30 names, let alone 60. It all fizzled out after three weeks.

Next term, before I start visualising, I will remember my poor, idealistic, on-a-hiding-to-nothing German teacher and just stick to getting through the term in one piece.

Gemma Warren is an assistant special needs co-ordinator at a London comprehensive Email: gemmaw@callnetuk.com

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