In teaching, nobody’s perfect

13th October 2017 at 00:00
Being a great teacher means learning that, sometimes, ‘OK’ is good enough, argues Grace Benson

Teaching is a profession where you are constantly being judged: by students, their parents or your colleagues. As an NQT, this can lead you down a rabbit hole in search of constant perfection.

Without question, such a search is futile. What’s more, these self-inflicted pressures can become overwhelming and detrimental to your health, personal life and, ironically, your performance as a teacher.

Throughout your training, you will undoubtedly be told that the term before Christmas is the longest and most difficult of the NQT year.

For me, it definitely was; particularly in October when sunlight was beginning to feel like some sort of ancient legend. I’d made it through the first term and a half feeling as if I’d had time to plan lessons, prepare my room and still meet friends for dinner. However, the marking hit me in the second term, leaving me feeling as if I was always one step behind.

I was in school from 7am to 7pm every day and usually doing at least two hours more when I got home to get everything done to a standard that I was happy with.

Weekends had become a mixture of work and mini-hibernation periods to store up enough energy for the next week. Worst of all, everyone else around me seemed to be doing just fine.

When I took some time to actually think about what others were doing differently, I realised that, while I was attempting to create every lesson from scratch and mark every page of work that my 190 students produced, my colleagues were tweaking ready-made resources and taking a more relaxed approach to marking. This didn’t make them worse teachers – in fact, it probably meant that they were freer to deal with the myriad of other tasks that make up the job.

It occurred to me that my students were really only concerned with whether or not they’d learnt something and could feel confident that I had a good understanding of what they needed to do to progress. It wasn’t an issue if my PowerPoint slides weren’t beautifully presented: what mattered was that I was there and had enough energy to deliver their lessons.

Since then, I have made a concerted effort to balance my life a bit more. I rarely bring my laptop home with me during the week and take the view that what isn’t done by the time I go home can wait, apart from on the very odd occasion.

This has undoubtedly meant making some compromises, but these have gone relatively unnoticed by my students and have had no effect on their learning. But, importantly, I am happier as a result and more able to put my energy towards helping the students who need it most.

There is no requirement for you to teach Shakespeare while standing on stilts and spinning plates. Sometimes, just standing at the front of the classroom and talking to the students in front of you will do just fine.

Grace Benson is an English teacher at Chenderit School in Oxfordshire

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