How Not to Be a Perfectionist Teacher

Perfectionism can make teaching an even more trying profession.

Perfectionism can make teaching an even more trying profession.

To the perfectionist teacher, nothing is ever good enough -- nothing. While it's beneficial for teachers to be detail-oriented and focused, as they are charged with the important task of preparing youths for later-in-life success, teachers who are overly perfectionistic often run into problems, because perfection isn’t possible. Teachers who are overly perfectionistic run the risk of feeling the strain that accompanies teaching more acutely than those who are a little more lax in their work. As Rachael Rettner reports for “Live Science,” individuals who are overly perfectionistic may even suffer unnecessary mental anguish as a result of failed attempts at attaining perfection. To ensure that you don’t feel the burn as a result of your perfectionism, put effort into squelching your perfectionistic ways.

Explore Your Perfectionism

The first step in overcoming your perfectionism is admitting you have a problem. Instead of lying to yourself and saying, “No, I am not a perfectionist; I just don’t like any errors -- ever,” own up to your perfectionistic ways. Compose a list of problems that perfectionism causes in your life, suggests psychologist Margaret Wehrenberg in “Psychology Today." For example, if you notice that it takes you two hours to grade a stack of papers that your co-teacher can get through in five minutes, that time killer belongs on your list.

Focus on Growth

Your goal as a teacher should be for you to continue to get better at being a teacher and for your students to continue to acquire more knowledge. Instead of beating yourself up over a teacher evaluation on which you scored only a 4.87 out of 5, look at the evaluation as an opportunity for self-improvement. Figure out what you can do to hone your teaching skills and goal set. Similarly, if your students bomb a test, instead of yelling at them until you are red in the face about how many times you went over the material, have them set goals to improve on the next assessment. This continued goal-setting will do two things. First, it will allow you and your students to constantly improve. Second, it will give you and your pupils the opportunity to feel the thrill of victory every time you reach one of these goals.

Limit Yourself

Perfectionist teachers often allow their desire to make everything just right lead them to clock long hours in the classroom. If your husband has forgotten what you look like and your once-loving pup now barks at you like a stranger, you are spending too much time at school. Set a leaving time for yourself and don’t deviate from it. Get what you can get finished done prior to this time, then leave. If you must, set a timer so you have no excuse for missing this self-imposed clock-out time.

Force Yourself to Delegate to Kiddos

Kids can help you with some of the tasks that take up much of your teaching time. In fact, the process of them helping you is educationally helpful to them because it gives them the opportunity to apply their learning to a real-life task. Let them assist you, and embrace the imperfection inherent to student-completed tasks. For example, instead of tediously cutting out snowflakes then ironing the paper before hanging them at exactly one-foot increments around your classroom ceiling, make it a math lesson and have students cut out their own wintery creations. Allow a few kiddos to stay after school and help you hang them as well. Relinquishing control of tasks like this will allow you the freedom you need to dedicate time to the more important tasks associated with teaching.

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About the Author

Erin Schreiner is a freelance writer and teacher who holds a bachelor's degree from Bowling Green State University. She has been actively freelancing since 2008. Schreiner previously worked for a London-based freelance firm. Her work appears on eHow, and RedEnvelope. She currently teaches writing to middle school students in Ohio and works on her writing craft regularly.

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