Daring to know myself
Taking the Warwick University teaching survey was only supposed to take 10 minutes, but for me it took about twice as long. The task that took the extra cognitive energy: choosing which adjectives described me. With a professional psychoanalyst as a mother, I could hardly escape a childhood of self-reflection. It's been a great tool for various experiences in my life. And yet, as I stared at the adjectives on the screen, I became flustered; baffled as to how I could be so easily flummoxed by such an apparently straightforward task. Am I 'thinking' or 'feeling'? Am I motivated by 'facts' or 'theories'? Am I a 'designer' or a 'creator'? Do I care about 'truthfulness' or 'tactfulness'?
Personality tests fairly consistently give me ENTJ (Extraverted, Intuitive, Thinking, and Judging). It means I'm a natural leader and I hate dogma. Google tells me I'm similar to Bill Gates, Harrison Ford, and Margaret Thatcher. Yikes. It also means I clash with other ENTJs and am influenced by the bad experiences I have when that happens. I am an odd mix of empathic and rational and what's more a polymath. So it's no surprise that this 'test' cast me into deep introspection as I attempted to fix the problem.
I realised fairly early on that much of my hesitation was rooted in my own prejudices around which adjective was the 'correct' choice. Which adjective would make me a better teacher? Which one should I be striving for? I was preoccupied with the personality I ought to have, rather than what kind of person I truly am. At least that revelation helped me with the survey's question on whether I am concerned with 'present facts' or 'future possibilities'. And all this existential anguish is not for nothing: I can now confidently tick the box that reads 'reflective' and safely ignore the one that says 'active'.
So why do I pressure myself to be not just the 'right' person for the job but the 'best'? Perhaps it's because I know how many young lives I am going to be influencing as a teacher. Perhaps I want to be the very best version of myself so that I can help my students follow suit. Perhaps the memory of my unsupportive, punitive teachers is still too raw for me to let go. I fear becoming like them, letting my students down, failing to solve the education gap... and I haven't even started teaching in a classroom yet.
My Teach First Development Lead asked me yesterday what I thought my biggest challenge would be for the duration of Summer Institute. My response was procrastination, but I think that answer was too deceptively simple. True, I'm sort of procrastinating right now by writing this blog post instead of getting on with specific training-related tasks... but I think a better answer would have been 'managing expectations around the pace of my own progress'. I don't have to be the best possible teacher today - or even in September. Teach First has been great at reiterating the challenges of training and the frustrations I may encounter. But I know I'll still have to work hard to combat the pressure I put on myself to succeed and be the 'top of my class' - whatever that even means.
A friend in Japan told me once that I have a 'nebulous idea of success'. The goals I set for myself are not concrete, which makes them unachievable and disappointment inevitable. My goal for this summer and for my career as a teacher is to value the little achievements and to celebrate them for what they are: real successes.