Mistaken identity

4th October 2013 at 01:00

If I could change something about myself, it wouldn't be my witchy nose or ridiculously prehensile chin (thanks, TES illustrators, for pointing that out to me), but my predilection for guilt. Whenever anything goes wrong, I blame myself.

When I'm out shopping, if a garment slips off its hanger I berate myself for my clumsiness even though I'm standing in Outdoor Coats and it's on the floor in Knitwear. The fact that five other shoppers stand between me and it does little to assuage my pain because when you suffer from Obsessive Guilt Disorder (OGD), everything is your fault.

My OGD is worse in school because so many things can go wrong. In the Bermuda Triangle of the classroom, students' books disappear, worksheets go missing and money evaporates from drawers. The healthy response is to shrug these things off and blame the kids, but I trace the cat's cradle of causality back to myself. If only I'd bucked up my ideas sooner, there'd be no lost coursework, no missing data and the last dodo would still be alive.

OGD is a tiresome compulsion. Whenever an object goes missing, you have to turn your classroom upside down in case you've inadvertently swiped it. And when students hand in shoddy homework, you have to castigate yourself for not erecting a massive hoarding along the side of the school that says: "SPEND 45 MINUTES ON THIS TASK" and then flips into a neon reminder: "AND WRITE AT LEAST ONE AND A HALF SIDES." For people with OGD, the knowledge that you wrote all this on your whiteboard is never quite enough.

My bitterest self-reproach is triggered by student grades. Giving me a list of underperforming students is like taking me to an All You Can Eat Buffet of Shame and handing me a 20-inch plate. While others pick at their accountability, I stuff myself with blame-grilled burgers and culpability coleslaw.

It's amazing what you can blame yourself for once you set your mind to it: there's the usual genetic stuff - your children's dodgy teeth, myopic eyes and Bruce Forsyth chin - but there's also what they fail to achieve. My son was the last in his class to ride a bike - which I put down to my choosing a house on a busy main road. And the only reason he's not playing for Newcastle United is that I bought his trainers from George.

I used to think this self-scapegoating was a virtue; now I realise it's more of a vice. Feeling guilty doesn't make you morally superior, it's just easier than facing the truth. Come the apocalypse, the ability to strike fear into the hearts of others, steal milk from babies and pass the buck of blame will give you better survival odds than muttering mea culpa and looking pious. The fact that I favour the latter explains why I'm still searching for lost keys in my classroom rather than running a consortium of schools.

Beverley Briggs is a secondary school teacher from County Durham, England.

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