Navel-gazing is bad for mental health

14th March 2003 at 00:00
Current educational wisdom decrees that, as a profession, teachers should be reflecting on their methodology and practice in the classroom, something that as a fairly new teacher I firmly adhere to. However, is it possible to be too reflective? My reflections seem to be encroaching more and more on my everyday life.

Even watching television reality shows has me studying the methodology of the participants. Take Jamie's Kitchen, where the "hero" employs "problem" kids to run his kitchen. As Jamie's pupils missed classes and turned up late, I began pontificating. "Simply because you, Jamie, succeeded without formal education doesn't mean positive energy and a bit of support will work for everyone."

More analysis with Celebrity Fat Club. Watching Harvey, the brash American physical fitness instructor, dealing with Rik, the self-pitying minor celebrity, I found myself disagreeing with his methods, concluding that it was more to do with his own frustration than any real attempt to help the overweight singer.

It was at this point I realised that I was the one with the problem. I have become an over-reflective practitioner - a back-seat driver, doomed to a life of analysing the educational approach of everything. This over-reflectiveness is not only encroaching on my television viewing, but also on other activities.

When I recently enrolled in a pinhole photography workshop, I expected to be closely watching my tutor's methodology. What I didn't expect to be doing was analysing my performance as a student, which I found to be wanting - in terms of behaviour. The first characteristic I discovered was that I was the class smart aleck, interrupting the flow of the lesson to show how witty I was to the rest of the students. Next I was the know-all as I tried to impress with my knowledge and enthusiasm about the subject, and art in general. Then I was over-demanding of the teacher's time. As our tutor looked at our work, I was silently wishing my colleagues would disappear so that I could get all the attention. What should have been an enjoyable diversion from work turned into self aversion therapy.

I've uncovered a danger to the profession, perhaps more threatening to our wellbeing than stress, which the authorities must stop; counselling or overtime should be offered to those who can't switch off from the job.

Gordon Cairns is an English teacher in north Lanarkshire

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