Don’t Strive for Perfectionism

I wrote a truly exciting blog earlier on my rather more professional site about whether revision is worth the hassle, I even did a video to go with it. I spend most of my professional life advising kids to chip away at tasks to make them seem less daunting. My tutor duties are definately skewed more towards skills and confidence than knowledge – often kids arrive knowing the end point, but have no idea how to transition from rabbit in the headlights to practical students. Much of my advice centres around doing your best and rewarding yourself for progress.

I am of course The Actual Worst when it comes to taking on too much and demanding perfection of myself. I don’t think I’m alone here – in fact, I’d put money on the vast majority of teachers being massive perfectionists who tie themselves in knots over the slightest thing.

Take for instance my tutoring rating. I currently sit at 94% (it’s like a centile, 6% are rated higher). Now, do I see me higher than 93% of tutors and celebrate? Noooo. I work out how to outdo the 6%.

Similarly, of my 294 lessons (IKR! How did that happen?!), 2 have been rated 4/5 which has ruined my perfect score.

This haunts me.

This really does haunt me. I even have a tattoo to remind me & bring me back to reality. 3 hours of scraping needles & ink into my skin to have a permanent reminder etched on me that I’m “Good Enough”.

This attitude is celebrated in many schools as having Highest Expectations or Always Learning. Except this is a huge mistake. Fostering a love of learning yield far greater results than scaring them into retaining facts. Fretting about missing that 0.02 is an indicator of serious anxiety issues. Encouraging this behaviour in kids is plain wrong.

We are currently raising a binary generation of people like me and people checking out entirely. The sheer volume of kids with anxiety shold be ringing alarm bells so loud that you can’t hear the lunch bell. I saw an insight of this when my girls did their SATS over the past few years

– Beanpole worked hard and chased down every mark. This was a 10 year old who knew how to interrogate a past paper. Extra lessons were attended, lunchtimes missed in lieu of revision. She acted like a 16 year old with GCSEs and would heed none of our advice to relax.

– TinyPants made herself physically sick worrying over the marks that she struggled with. She was awared no extra time despite the aching joints of Ehlers Danlos rearing their ugly head. In the end, after 6 months of revision stress she wrote “I DON’T CARE” in 3 inch letters across her exam paper. Her summer school report was a simple “Not High School Ready”. She died her hair pink & left primary school making some interesting hand gestures.

In both cases, we have been exceedingly lucky with their high school who took the pressure down and have given them a breather. TinyPants still refuses point blank to read anything for pleasure and “you just haven’t found the right book” is met with stubborn refusal. Why? Because she was forced to pick apart texts for a year, identifying modal fucking verbs instead of fanning her creative spark with literature. I will never forgive Gove for stamping out a love of reading for so many kids.

But I digress. My point was that we are teaching kids that nothing short of perfection will do all the way through life and that extreme stress just means you’re working hard enough – complain about it & you’re a snowflake (spend 10 minutes on twitter to confirm this). Despite wrapping it up in the “keep failing until you get it right” posters, nothing they are taught backs up this theory – don’t fail your SATS or you’re not High School Ready, pass your GCSES or you can’t get into College, get AAB in your A Levels or you can’t get into University… Ad infinitum.

Fast forward to the 38 year old & it’s still going. Pass your job probation, ace the appraisal observation, get the highest tutor rating, the only disability is a bad attitude! (barf), what do you mean you can’t work and parent and sort the house whist on a constant slow release of morphine that you forget to take on time because the neuro drugs have melted the intelligent part of your brain??? Brain fog is no excuse for stopping. Keep up. No-one is irreplaceable.

My unique state is part nature, part nuture. My adrenal dysfunction likes to fool me into thinking that the harmless lesson observation, or coffee with a friend is on a par with being eaten by a tiger. Nuture wise my wonderful, but ultimately messed up mother spent my entire childhood comparing me to fictional kids who were way more intelligent than me and who grew up and married very rich doctors (Go Feminism!). In short, I’m constantly terrified that I’m actually no good at the thing I’ve trained over a decade to do and get high ratings in.

Eventually, I’ll end up in a cave as a hermit where I might make friends with the tiger that’s probably less scary than leaving the house. Until then, welcome to my mind palace.

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Exam Result Jitters

Tomorrow morning will herald the standard news coverage of teenagers crying with joy and disappointment and the usual debates on whether exams are easier, harder or both than the ‘good old days’. Yes, tomorrow is exam results day for A Level students, and for the A2 students, tomorrow is the day they find out if they actually have their place at their chosen university, or not. And if not, they get to join in the fun that is ‘clearing’, or explaining to parents what went wrong.

It’s the night before, the morning everyone has been holding their breath for. And it’s not just the kids that are nervous, the teachers are feeling a bit sick too.

I know, because I am already nauseous. I will arrive at work tomorrow at 6.30am to ensure that our IT systems hold up. It feels very weird, because I’ve already mentally moved on to my new school and all preparations are focused on my school for September, but I’m going back to the old school for results.

Why am I feeling so nervous then? What possible impact could this have? I’ve left. This is my old school. Well, it’s because I care about the individual students. Every single one has had an impact on me and the way I look at teaching. Each one of them is important as a person. I’m under no illusion, that these exams impact on their lives way more than mine, and as such I have a responsibility for this to be more than just a job. It’s a conscience thing.  Cue some of that Catholic guilt really kicking in.

I’m realistic, I predict that they won’t all get A*s, but I do want them to get the grades that they deserve based upon the work they put in. I’m reasonably confident that they will. But nothing is ever certain.

For the majority of them, I believe that they have listened to my advice, taken my teaching seriously and have done their best. This is the most I could possibly hope for in my students, and I can say with my hand on my heart that I will be as thrilled for the student who I am hoping beyond all hope gets that C, as I will be for the one who I am banking on breaking the 90% barrier. Why? Because I know that that is the academic best for those individuals. I just hope that my gut feeling is right for most of them, and the few that I worry about I am wrong and they worked harder than I thought.

Whatever happens, I know I did my best from a teacher’s perspective. Your best is good enough, because you can’t give anything more. Good luck guys.

Sharpening the Axe

It’s been a week since my last (and very emotional) day at the school. And it’s taken me quite some time to recover.

We’ve been in Valencia now for just under a week and I’m just reaching the point of letting go. Last night was a pivotal point in my mental state as I donned my swimsuit, put on music and walked into the pool and fell (purposefully) into the deep water where I floated with a real sense of peace. Today I noticed other things too:

For the first time in over three years I’ve read (and finished) a book for pleasure. Not for book club, or on a recommendation, or for reference. It was utter pap that was reviewed by Heat and I loved every page.

I can sit quietly for more than 10 minutes without panic rising in me like lava. I’ve finally stopped fidgeting all the time.

I’m singing around the house and couldn’t care less who hears me. I also threw all caution to the wind today and bought an itsy bikini and actually wore it (It’ll look better once I’ve toned up, but that won’t happen in a week!).

I can hold more than a glass of wine without feeling wobbley. In fact, I can drink several glasses of fizz and feel perfectly in control!

I have colour in my face without any make-up. And not just a tan, but colour which has taken away the bags from under my eyes.

I’m eating like a normal person – over the last few days I have weaned myself off of the comforting carbs that have helped me balloon over the past few years. I’m not calorie counting, but eating fresh vegetables, either raw or grilled with few starchy additions. And I’ve had very few moments where I’ve been racked with hunger (or had massive mood swings) despite the drastically reduced calories.

I’ve made the right decision. For me, for my family, and for my health.

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Well that esculated quickly…

Think back to your childhood, do you remember watching a teacher properly losing it? I do. I remember watching this poor guy crack in a truly British way by standing up and eloquently telling us all exactly what he thought of us (his opinion of our academic prowess was a little jaded, but spectacularly accurate!).

My Goddaughter watched a similar scenario today, although scarily she is only 8 and doesn’t have the level of nonchalance that a stroppy teenager applies to this situation. It got me thinking though. Exactly what does it take to make a teacher risk losing their dignity, their control and quite possibly their job?

In a word, stress.

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May is a horrible month for teachers, and having just been told by Beanpole that I must be ill because the bags under my eyes are black (thanks kid), I’m aware that while I’m dealing with my stress, it is having a physical effect, and not just through increased chocolate consumption. Burnout is a very real thing and those helpful media people who drone on about teachers leaving by 3pm and having constant holidays don’t help. My average day is in excess of 12 hours – as a fully qualified software developer, if I was in it for the money, I wouldn’t be teaching. But there is no piece of software that gives the same level of job satisfaction as seeing a spark of lifelong interest.

But job satisfaction does not shield you from stress or the changing nature of our profession. I have heard many older teachers of a bygone generation lament the loss of status within society – where once the academic was respected for the academic and social lessons that were imparted upon the young, they are now more likely to be blamed for the failure to make the horse drink the water they were led to.

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And this shift in the status of a profession is invariably passed on to the younger generations.

But what can we do? We can learn to consider our position as a frog. Calmly survey the surroundings from the lily pad and jump when the water is warm and danger has passed. Ultimately, all things will pass and tadpoles will eventually grow their own legs. Oh, and try not to crack up in front of the kids. A large glass of wine is generally much more productive (after school).

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You are not your mind. Or you sir, are out of yours.

After reading a fair bit on the negative route to happiness, I started delving into Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power of Now. I’ve been far more open to the idea of mindfulness over the past months and after seeing it discussed on the news this morning, I thought I’d talk about it here…

The frog is getting Zen.

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Actually, the frog is feeling very much at peace with everything since it was decided that the road of the frog is much better than that of the princess. (See Why being a Frog is Better than Being a Princess). But this book is taking it a step further.

Don’t let your mind possess you. It cannot allow you to exist in the here and now

At first, this sounds like the rankings of a crazy person who should be medicated, rather than published. Except, he’s quite happy.

The time for thinking is over. The mind has evolved so far that thinking is destructive. It is time to evolve to a higher state of consciousness.

Again, clearly mental.

Except… Except, the ability to take a step back from all the noise in your head and perceive them in an objective manner is ultimately helpful. Am I actually angry with that person for driving like a complete tool, were they really trying to put my life in danger, or is that my perception of the situation? Stand back. Am I angry because I’m actually not in control? Do I need to be annoyed? The tool is now half way down the road and actually, right now I am in no danger. They were just being a tool and it wasn’t aimed at me per say. I can continue with my day. Holding onto any anger will only make my own day unhappier.

This idea of watching our thoughts until they are rationalized or just go away completely allowing us to just be aware of everything around us is an exceptionally good way to reduce general stress and anxiety. Since starting this on a daily basis, I have certainly been immensely less stressed and am gliding through what could be quite a stressful upheaval with a real sense of peace.

I’m nowhere near totally stress free, but the frog is no longer a princess sitting in a pond.

Despite the initial raised eyebrows, I shall continue with this book with as open a mind as I can muster.

Ribbit.

Frogs don’t fear The Reaper

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So, the frog is off to have a look at another lilypad tomorrow and see if the natives are friendly and if they want the frog sharing their pad.

This is one of those pivotal moments in life. This could be big. If the frog jumps without fully assessing the lilypad, there could be an almighty splash and I could end up sitting back in the water eyeing up the passing newts. The current lilypad is sturdy and familiar. This is the unknown.

So here I am employing the tactic of stoicism. What is the worst possible outcome? I bomb, and I return to the old lilypad. And it’s not a bad place to return to. Look to the long term – either option has enormous redeeming features and ultimately, when faced with death, the frog can say they made a difference.

Why don’t frogs fear the reaper? Because they know he’s coming and have lived, rather than waiting to be a prince(ss). The frog has no regrets.

Ribbit.

No-one should be so tired that they contemplate climbing in the wardrobe to find Narnia just in case Mr Tumnus might let them have a nap on his sofa in peace…..

Something has gone awry. Anyone who says that teachers have a nice cushy number ought to count the number of hours I have spent with my children since Sunday night when they went to bed.

I can tell you, because I worked it out. Discounting kissing them goodnight as they slept, 70 minutes in total. That’s 15 minutes each morning while I ingest enough coffee to make me fit to drive to work and 10 minutes for two nights this week when they snuck down to say goodnight.

What’s worse is I feel like I’m not being committed enough, because I’m openly complaining (only on here). I felt obliged to answer emails at 11pm and beyond last night, knowing that I needed to be up by 6am.

I know that I’m doing the absolute best for my family by being a working parent, but that parent bit is beginning to feel a bit fraudulent. I’m not really parenting anymore. How can you parent for 70 minutes a week? Apparently, spending a week hooked up to heart monitors wasn’t enough to scare me into taking it easier. It was enough to make me ‘think’ about it and realise there’s an issue, but so far I’ve yet to come up with a feasible plan of action, other than give everything up and live in a yurt.

This isn’t very in line with my attempt at being zen, but I’m too tired to put any perspective on this. I’m not being very rational, or logical. I’m too bloody tired to bring logic into this argument. I just pulled a 13 hour day plus travel (I’ll admit Thursday does contain my favourite part of the week when we do open IT activities and let the kids loose on random bits of tech like raspberry Pi and makey makeys – that’s a whole other post though).

The fact is I will cope, I will get up extra early tomorrow to wish midget a happy birthday and make her that special birthday breakfast before I leave at 7am, I will get through the 14 hour day plus travel tomorrow, I will teach the classes to the best of my ability, I will converse with parents and actually I won’t lose my temper. Why? Because that’s what you have to do.

Stiff upper lip and all that. We are, after all, British.

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