Last weekend, on the eve of the students’ return, I went to the cinema to see Bad Moms. It wasn’t a movie that I was dying to see but as I’m in possession of a Limitless card, I’ll pretty much go and see anything. I was really surprised. It was brilliant. It was hilarious but it wasn’t that that made it brilliant. It was its gritty honesty staring directly at me from the big screen.
The premise was simple – that instead of killing themselves striving for perfection, moms should happily settle for something more realistic. And then, whilst walking home from the cinema, I began to think about how much of the film’s message actually resonates with the teaching profession.
On a simplistic level, how many teachers are constantly striving for this perfection – the perfect lesson? The perfect resource? The perfect display? And to what effect on their own personal health and wellbeing? After conducting a brief survey on teacher’s working hours, most teachers stated that they were working 14 hour days and then some at the weekend. For what? The perfect lesson? The perfect resource? The perfect display?
Last year, when life was mental because of three new key stages worth of work, I actually went a whole week without using Activ Inspire and you know what???? Nobody died. Admittedly, to begin with my heart beat that little bit faster but nobody died. Admittedly, my lessons were slightly rough round the edges but nobody died. And when I apologised to my year 9 class for giving them, what I thought were some pretty rubbish lessons, they turned round and told me I was a good teacher and they had enjoyed the week.
In addition, how many teachers make their quest for perfectionism competitive? I am sure we have all had conversations in which other teachers state ‘I stay at school until 7pm every night’ or ‘I always work weekends’ or ‘I worked the whole holiday’ as though the more hours you work, the more perfect you are and if you don’t do the same, then you are probably quite inadequate.
Sadly, across the year, I see so many teachers (including myself) lose their spark, the colour in their cheeks, the glint in their eyes because they are working excessively long hours trying to keep up and be the perfect teacher, when actually IT JUST ISN’T POSSIBLE.
It isn’t possible because the expectations on teachers are unrealistic and unfair and have been getting increasingly worse as schools budgets have been tightened. I’ve been party to seeing a number of teacher’s timetables as they post them on Twitter and cannot believe how anyone can look at these timetables and think they are reasonable. I’ve seen a lot of timetables where a mainscale teacher teachers 27/30 lessons. That works out to around 6 classes which means, lucky you, that you have less than thirty minutes per class per week to plan their 4-5 lessons, mark their books and any assessments they complete. The government is having a giraffe. In those hours, it is just not possible to do everything needed for that class. Perfectionism is out the window. Being good is out the window.
However, it isn’t easy to present the imperfect. There aren’t many teachers who openly have the confidence to admit that not all of their lessons are great, that they haven’t marked the students’ books for two weeks as per the school policy, that they forgot to go on duty, that they can’t quite control that year 8 class or that they don’t know what anaphora is. Weakness is the enemy of perfection. And in the days of budget cuts, redundancies and PRP, admitting weakness for many staff feels as though they are basically putting a noose around their own neck. The above processes and the instability of the teaching profession has led more teachers to present perfection rather than admit that, like any other teacher, they can’t do it all, perfectly, all of the time.
This is why the destruction of ‘perfectionism’ lies with leaders and establishing a culture in which the threat of PRP , job losses and budget constraints does not prevent staff honesty and development.
As a leader, I shall be doing two things to tackle this:
- I am going to be a BAD teacher. Not bad as in shit but bad as in realistic and kinder to myself. Publicly I have to articulate that if I don’t have perfect lessons all the time, that’s ok. If I don’t produce the most sparkling of resources every lesson, that’s ok. If my displays take a little longer, that too is ok. If I want to leave at three o’clock because I fancy a glass of wine that is ok. If I don’t want to work in the evening that is ok. If I don’t respond to emails with an hour of getting them that is ok. If I want to have Saturday off that is ok. That none of these things make me a worse teacher, in fact they make me a better one because I am prioritising my own health and wellbeing.
- I am going to model my teaching weaknesses as should all leaders. Using our Teacher Assessment Framework which is divided into three levels: mainscale, upper pay and leadership, I will show staff that I still have areas to develop in the mainscale teaching standards but that that doesn’t mean I am a bad teacher.
In being transparent with the staff I lead, I am hoping that we begin to knock perfectionism out of the park and engage in more honest conversations through which we can help, support and develop each other whilst also maintain healthier and more balanced lives.
So this year, forget being perfect and take a leaf out of the Bad Mom’s book. Be kinder to yourself, be more realistic about what you can achieve and no matter what anyone presents, know that perfection is totally, utterly unobtainable and you will become a better teacher and a happier person if you embrace the ‘bad.’