Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Turning Off the Perfectionist

Whew! How is it ONLY Tuesday?! I've survived 2 full days with the kids and all I can say is, I am SO exhausted. Training kindergartners (and their parents) to understand the concept of schools requires at least 10 hours of sleep a night and since I keep waking up at 4 am thinking about all that I need to do, I'm lucky if I get 7!

Growing up I was not a perfectionist at all. Just ask my mom. I drove her insane with my careless cross outs on my homework, and my absolute refusal to recopy something just because there were a couple of mistakes on it. I was not the kid who practiced piano for hours, or cried if I didn't get the answer right in class. Nope, not me.

Then, I started teaching. Suddenly the overwhelming need for perfection took over. Except when 21 5-year-olds and their equally unpredictable parents are involved, there is absolutely no such thing.

Never ever will I have the perfect class. Never ever will all the parents be satisfied. Never ever will all the children learn to read without any bumps. Never ever will every kid skip into the classroom in delight to be there. Never ever will every kid being a good sport during math games, or a good listener during lessons. Never ever will every lesson go as planned or every faculty meeting be productive.

I know this. I do. But in my mind, I still strive for it. I still think, maybe if I take the time to check in with every parent in the first week of school then maybe they will not all bombard me at Curriculum Night wondering how little Johnny is doing. I still think, maybe if I get to school a little earlier then I can make a visual for this activity and no one will ask "what are we doing again?" right after I just explained it. I still think that maybe if I revamp my beginning of the year letter for the sixth time maybe I can prevent all the ridiculous questions.

This may sound irrational to you, but when you consider what parents, principals and the general public actually expect of teachers, it's really quite rational. Nobody can get hurt and/or upset and everyone must reach grade level and if they are already beyond, don't even think about boring them. You get the gist.

So, here is how I plan to quell the perfectionist in me this school year. All of these ideas could be used to tame any perfectionism in you, even if you aren't crazy enough to teach the five-year-olds.

1. Delegate. This year I plan to use my special education aide better. I'm going to meet with her once a week during what used to be a pretty silly consult time and tell her all the plans for the next week and what I want her to do. She's a certified teacher so I can really rely on her to do more planning. If I am going to have kids in my class that demand tons of differentiation, I should use the support I am given the best I possibly can.

2. Prioritize. On Monday mornings I am going to set goals for the week. I'm thinking 3. Then, that is going to my major priority, anything else that gets done is just a bonus :)

3. Say No. Self explanatory. I'm going to do it. Every time I do, I'm going to celebrate.

4. Leave the work, at work. I always hear about the greatness of not taking work home, but I never really considered it. Frankly there are some tedious tasks that I would just rather do in front of the TV rather than staying at work an extra hour to do it. However, recently my best friend Katie mentioned that she was trying not to take any work home this year and I started to consider it more seriously. I still think there will be times that I will do work at home, especially during report card and conference time. But last year I was at a point where I was constantly taking work home. This year my goal is to leave work at work at least 3 nights a week, and hopefully more.

Are you are perfectionist (at least in some areas of life)? How do you tame the perfectionist in you?


  1. I am trying to be so much more organized this year too. I need to make some improvements and the lists are helping me now. I got all my planning done on Friday so I feel really prepared for this week. I have two parent helpers coming tomorrow and I actually was organized enough to get together stuff for them to do. It's tough to have everything work like clockwork, but as you pointed out, things will never be perfect with the children so I can at least make sure I am as organized as I can be and that will help.

    Answering your question from the other day---At my previous back to school night, we just basically had an open house. It was for all grades on the same night, so we put out our curriculum and parents got to take a peek in our rooms....it was lame. I much preferred doing a presentation because I felt like I was able to give so much good info to the parents. In Germany, I didn't have to do anything since I wasn't a classroom teacher.

  2. I am a total perfectionist and always have been. It is sort of a double edged sword, as it pushes me to work hard, but the downside is that i rarely am all that happy with myself at the end of the day.

    Those are good goals, though! I really do not know how you do it. I think the hardest part would be managing the parents (at least for me)...

  3. I am the furthest thing from a perfectionist, ha. In some areas, I am but I never put a lot of pressure on myself to be absolutely perfect.

    I love the idea of making 3 goals each week to focus on. I think that will help you a lot!

  4. Well I think you know my answer to this, I am definitely a perfectionist! I'm trying really hard to put some of these ideas into practice, and I especially like the second bullet; prioritize. I have so much on my plate right now and sometimes I find myself thinking I should be doing it ALL and reaching ALL my goals, but then I just stop and take a breath and create week by week goals, which is so helpful. Like you said, if I get those goals done, anything extra is a bonus!!

  5. I used to be a HUGE perfectionist in high school and my first couple years of college but I've really calmed down on that front recently and started being less hard on myself. I do take work home fairly often but I also have a flexible work schedule that allows me to take extra long lunches, leave work early, come in late etc. etc.

    BUT I think your friends plan not to take work home too often would REALLY help your stress levels because working right up until you crawl into bed at night is not good for sleep at all! At least not for me!

    I also really like your 3 goals idea. That sounds like it could really work for you and help focus your week.

  6. I'm a perfectionist, a neat freak and an over-planner!! I'm terrible at delegation, or at letting things slide.

    Good for you recognizing how you can make a few small changes to make your life easier.

  7. wouldn't it be nice to have an on/off switch for things like this.

  8. i'm SUCH a perfectionist. i rely a lot on my friends to tell me i'm being ridiculous with things because all your tips are great ones, if i can tell my brain to listen!

  9. Delegation can be so hard but SO necessary sometimes.
    Also, I've really been trying to follow the rule "leave work at work". I didn't once (okay.. twice) and I REALLY noticed the difference in my mental state the next day and work life balance. I felt like I had been working for 2 days straight. Even if sometimes it's easier to get work done at home, drawing the line has been huge for me (so far).

    In general, I think this post is funny because I was such a perfectionist in school/growing up, and now in the work place I feel much less like a perfectionist. Maybe that just means I don't love/care about my job?

  10. I have no idea how you do what you do - it's so beyond my capabilities! Sure I can be a lawyer but put me in a room-full of children and I'm so beyond lost!!!

    And I have perfectionist tendencies. A lot of them revolve around my home but I had to let go of them when the Husband and I started sharing a home. I just have to remember that I'm not the only one living here and things aren't going to always be my way. But in the grand scheme does that really matter!?!? No. :)