Why new year's resolutions are bad for teachers

After everything Covid has thrown at teachers, Gordon Cairns says 2021 is the year to can new year's resolutions

Gordon Cairns


Well, at least this January’s new year resolution list was a lot shorter than usual. No need to make that annual resolution about not going to the pub on a school night (although a Tier 4 lockdown this year might make this a promise you actually keep), nor do you need to resolve to start going to the gym regularly, which is also all likelihood going to be closed for at least the next few months.

In fact, maybe this is the year to ignore those long lists of teacher resolutions beloved of education websites, all designed on paper to make you a better teacher. If these suggestions were just a couple of minor adjustments to enhance your craft, perhaps there might be a chance that the list of targets would be realised.

But when a dozen immediate alterations are demanded of you (from the somewhat achievable, such as promising to greet each student with a smile and by name as they enter the classroom, to the plainly impossible, like radically rethinking your teaching style) it becomes clear that these changes require a lot more than an excess of willpower – more a different personality altogether.

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The problem with new year’s resolutions for teachers, in particular, is that they draw us in, dovetailing too neatly with the desire many of us share of wanting to be reflective practitioners. The reality, though, is that they demand too much self-discipline at the exact moment when this commodity is at a minimum.

Who can claim to have an iron resolve when returning to work on a cold grey morning, with winter still stretched out in front of us, coupled with uncertainty about what type of work we are returning to: blended learning, remote teaching, a traditional classroom full of students?

When the resolutions are inevitably broken  usually around the same time you forget the first tranche of passwords to access your online work – teachers end up feeling like failures, having signed themselves up to an impossible tradition.

I find it incredible that, according to some reports, 10 per cent of resolutions made in January are still being adhered to by December. Who are these automatons keeping those self-improvement promises for so long?

For the rest of us, perhaps it would be better this new year to cut ourselves some slack and focus on feeling positive about what we are doing well: surviving. With so many rules restricting what we can do in our working day and in our spare time at night right now, imposing extra limits seems almost perverse. So, for this year at least, we just can the new year's resolutions altogether?

Gordon Cairns is an English and forest school teacher in Scotland

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Gordon Cairns

Gordon Cairns is a forest school and English teacher who works in Scotland

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