James Rhodes' in his autobiography 'Instrumental' writes: 'Our whole cultural identity is centred around not being good enough, constantly needing things that are shinier, faster, smaller, bigger, better,' a sentiment with which I deeply empathise. Looking back on my teaching career the one thing I know that became central to my depression was never being good enough. Everyone had an opinion on my teaching, my manager, my colleagues, my students, but none of these were as bad as my own self critical point of view. The whole of teaching was based on evaluation, evaluation by OFSTED, evaluation through performance management, evaluation through student reviews, evaluation through examination results. Even if I reached the lofty heights of an 'outstanding' which I did once or twice in my twenty year career, even that would not be good enough, I would have to become more outstanding in the next observation.
The root cause of my stress was never really the ever-increasing amount of paperwork, or forms to fill in, of reflective learning to be done on my own departmental practice, the endless re-preparation of lessons to make them better, or even disruptive students. All of these things were difficult and did not help but they were not to blame. It was being in a permanent state of self-criticism that eventually wore my esteem away. Now I know that some might say 'toughen up and get used to it' but I truly think it is inevitable that if you keep telling people they must improve some of them are going to end up thinking that they are never going to be good enough. Some outstanding teachers are going to permanently crippled by self doubt brought about by a performance management system that installs a belief of incompetence. It is not that it is even possible for all teachers to be equally good, as I know from learning the ukulele I am never going to be a Jerry Garcia but I am going to be good enough.
As a teacher I might never even been extremely, wonderfully, exceptionally, outstanding but I was good enough. Good enough to run a course that increased its numbers from 40 to 240 in the space of three years, good enough to win the Good Schools guide award for best results in A level psychology for boys in a state school (see I still have to refer to an external judge to know that what I did was good enough), good enough that an ex student said to me later in life that I saved her life. I was good enough but I was never allowed to believe it.
Perhaps we need a new OFSTED category of 'Good Enough'. We do need to find out if we are doing things wrong, and we can all aspire to be better but at least we can all know we are good enough.