Tired of constant striving

28th May 2004 at 01:00
They're on the fridge door, the pinboard, the bedside cabinet. They're in my filofax and stuck on my desk. Lists of tasks to complete, targets to achieve.

It is important to have a sense of direction and purpose. But constantly motivated only by achieving the next target? I hope not. Children need to be aware of their own strengths and weaknesses. But I am not always convinced that the targets we set truly motivate. Rather, they can trivialise the complexity of our learning and the multitude of paths that individuals might take.

All the children in our school have targets for English and maths. In most cases they are aware of them. But I am reminded of a child I taught more than 10 years ago before targets became endemic. He never remembered to punctuate his work. His target remained as wallpaper for the year. It served no purpose other than as a source of amusement for the rest of the class. A year later he was punctuating his work accurately. Was that the effect of the target? I suspect not. At some point it all fitted into place and the target was hit with no deliberate aim but because the time was right.

Perhaps we should research the number and type of targets set. I suspect punctuation and sentence construction would feature high. These sorts of targets are easy to set, easy to measure, and easily forgotten in the rush to write down ideas and construct a breathless story. Targets can make us feel tired. Constant striving can lead to a sense of failure.

I hesitate to put my own children through the hoops of constantly seeking more. They are already inundated with tests and the carrot of financial rewards for life, which makes me concerned that we are building up unreal expectations. I'd recommend as targets having fun, exploring a little and enjoying the moment. With or without punctuation.

Suzanne Brown is head of Queen's CofE junior school in Nuneaton, Warwickshire

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