All my life, I’ve been a perfectionist. Give me a task and I’ll want to do it, not just well, but perfectly. I’ve always wanted to be top of the class. I’ve wanted to have the gold star. I’ve wanted to be the one who wins.
And then I became a teacher.
It started off well enough. In my NQT year, my university supervisor commented on how immaculately I had arranged my evidence folders. Perfectly labelled, perfectly filed, perfectly annotated. Colleagues were shown examples of my exemplary marking. I was asked to lead a CPD session on inspiring lower ability learners. I felt like I was winning.
But, of course, I wasn’t.
Because that perfectly presented NQT folder represented five missed family gatherings. Those beautifully-marked books were achieved by countless evenings of ignoring my husband while I sat and slogged away with my red pen. That inspiration in the classroom was counterbalanced by my complete apathy at home, my inability to do anything but sleep and eat if I wasn’t working. Yes, I was winning at teaching, but I was failing at life.
It took a personal crisis to make me realise what was happening. In my struggle for perfection, I had lost all perspective. And the irony was, I realised, that I would never be a perfect teacher, because there is no such thing.
And so, I took a step back, and I realised that I didn’t have to be excellent, all the time. Sometimes, it was OK to be OK. As a friend told me, as I wept into my coffee one morning, ‘good enough is good enough’.
I know it’s easy to say, and I know the pressures teachers are under mean that it can be hard to believe. Government, parents, students, senior management – it can feel like everyone is demanding perfection. There is no room for failure, no room for plain old good.
But there is. None of these people who set our goals is perfect, themselves. It’s a cliché, but it’s true: no-one is perfect.
So please, when you are having a bad day or a bad week or a bad month, or when you think that you just want to lock yourself in your supplies cupboard and howl at the wall, or when you come home to a pile of marking and planning and feel dog-tired, or when you feel like you just can’t go on because it is all so hard, remember…
… these are the times that good enough is good enough.