Redefining ‘perfect’

As you come to the end of this week and look ahead to next week it is highly likely that many of you will be feeling apprehensive. We have thrown a huge amount at you in these two weeks – lots of information, ideas and challenges to think about. Next week you will be going into school and spending more time there than with us and this can feel quite frightening. You don’t know what to expect, you want to do well and be liked and you want everything to go right and be perfect – this fear of the unknown, alongside a desire to do everything right can be hard to handle.

I would imagine another problem many of you might be grappling with is the feeling of not being in control and not being given easy answers to your questions. We have had a lot of conversations with you about the fact that you will need to develop into your own teacher and learn what is right for you and, whilst this is absolutely correct, at this moment in time many of you might just want simple answers!

With these thoughts in mind here are a few suggestions that might help you think about things differently:

Take time to notice that you are feeling scared or anxious. If you are aware of your feelings you can spot the thoughts you are having that are irrational. Keep reminding yourself that a primitive part of your brain is trying to be in charge and tell yourself that the sensible part of your brain is not going to let this happen!

It might be that you are worried that you won’t get on with your mentor – force yourself to think about this sensibly:

Is there a real reason to worry about why you might not get on? Was there anything to suggest you wouldn’t get on when you met last week? In the vast majority of cases the answers will be no. Even if something small happened last week that does make you a little nervous, remember that your fears are based on your perception of things. Your mentor is much more likely to have a positive impression of you and not noticed the thing you are fretting about!

Give your brain a positive thought to focus on. As your brain wanders into the territory of thinking about everything you don’t know, or all the things you don’t have control over, focus on something you do know or can control – however small.

When thinking about everything that you don’t know about your placement school and what will happen next week, focus on something positive you do know, however small. This might be a class you were with last week that you liked, a friendly teacher, even the fact that the logistics of getting to your school are easy to manage. Similarly, when worrying about what you have no control over, think positively about what you can control – arriving nice and early, looking professional, smiling and being friendly, getting involved in lessons … all these things are in your gift.

Genuinely identify what you do and don’t know. By sitting down and really thinking about what you do and don’t know you might realise you know a lot more than you think and that no-one is expecting you to know what you don’t know!

You know that there is lots of structure to your upcoming placement, you know that the school and University know exactly what you need to do over the next few months and they have, and will, plan tasks, activities and teaching that make sense for each step of the way. You already know lots about the school in terms of practicalities – the timings of the day, how to get there, who key people are. You know that no one is expecting you to teach straightaway next week. What might you not know? Exactly when you are going to start teaching, whether the pupils will like you, how to plan a lesson, … be kind to yourself and remind yourself that no one is expecting you to know these things at the moment.

Accept that you can’t be in control. No likes being out of control but I think to be successful at managing the scary moments on a teacher training course is to accept you can’t be in control. As teachers we can never be fully in control, however experienced we are, because every day something unexpected happens (pupils react badly to a task, a fire alarm goes off in the middle of the lesson, you suddenly have to cover someone else’s lesson, a pupil is sick in your lesson, a pupil tells you something that needs urgently dealing with, a member of department is off ill and you are asked to pick up some of their work, … the list could go on). Realise that learning not to be in control of everything is part of the journey.

Don’t seek perfection. You can’t be perfect as a teacher so see learning not to be as just another challenge or target for you moving forward. Perhaps another way of thinking about it is to accept that you like to be perfect and redefine what ‘perfect’ is in relation to being a teacher – perhaps ‘perfect’ is coping with not being in control, being able to be flexible and being able to learn from mistakes. Now you can still tell your head you want to be perfect but what that looks like is something different!


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