In this great business called teach, we often feel that we are only as outstanding as our last lesson, whole-school initiative, inspection or staffroom pontification. Teach business is physically and emotionally demanding: our confidence is bound up with performance, self-perception and relationships. As such, it should come as no surprise that from time to time confidence may erode, crumble, dissolve or shatter depending on its consistency and the nature of its foundation. (I am down to my final match. Dare I strike it?)
My confidence currently has a binary and brittle aspect to it. I am more than capable of presenting myself in public, roaring like Brian Blessed or giving it the full Ken Robinson. However, prick me and I’ll do more than bleed: I shall bleed in a dark corner, sucking my thumb and rubbing the prick in empty gloom.
With this in mind, I offer you five pieces of advice, from my toolbox to yours, to help you nurture, protect or repair your self-confidence, but do so with humility and hard-work, rather than clichéd aphorism. [Strikes match]
1. Reflect positively and in moderation
As a child, probing my reflection in the mirror, I would lose myself in the contours of my face or wallow deep in the hazelnut nebulae of my irises. Mired in such introspection, my mother would cuff me around the head. “Stop being such a bloody Pet Shop Boy and pitch in with the washing-up!” she would say, and she was right.
Reflection on criticism (self or otherwise) has its place. It is important to sift the ashes of scorched slings and cremated arrows for grains of truth. But if you don’t find those grains, they were probably not there in the first place. We are not all human all of the time. Know your jackals and hyenas, and spend a lifetime not joining their packs: your soul will thank you for it in the end. (Where in God’s name am I?)
Learn from your mistakes and learn when you have not made mistakes.
2. Pierce procrastination
With diminished confidence, you might find yourself facing a mounting workload without the energy and optimism to pull through. The only way through such circumstances is to trick yourself into action. Tell yourself that you will work on a task for five minutes (it will become fifty minutes); focus on the bread-buttering tasks that will protect your professionalism before moving onto bigger, nebulous projects; feel the confidence breathe back by way of reward as you do the things that you know you should be doing. (This match is burning low.)
3. Preen with a little pride
Perhaps it should not be so, but your appearance (more crucially, your perception of your appearance) has a role to play in your confidence. The performance element of teaching is such that the odd stubbly day, whilst forgivable, can compound whatever negativity or doubt might be creeping around in the corners of your mind.
Conversely, a little preening – a coiffured bonce briefly glimpsed as you pass the mirror on your way out of the staff toilet (Did you wash your hands?) or a finely-turned heel – can help you cement a foundation of personal care (dare I say ‘pride’).
Whether your idea of chic is The Levellers or Liberace, a little attention to your deportment will reflect back onto you and give you a feeling of agency and sense of your own tableau. (There’s something immense and cold here. Something metal. Ouch! That’s sharp!) [Grasps forearm in pain.]
4. Exercise, eat and drink like the proverbial
When you are knackered, go out for a ten kilometre run. Eat porridge. Take a bottle of water into the classroom. Whatever you do when you are not doing those three things, do those three things to allow you the bandwidth to do the other things. Teach business is extremely demanding and can bleed you of adrenalin. You need to build up your energy levels through exercise; you need to eat food that will burn slowly and drip feed you; you need to hydrate. (I can see a glinting, metal cross like an enormous Philips’ head!)
5. Focus on others with grace
Whether you are faced with another human, hyena or jackal, seek to understand those around you. Forgive, be patient, be grateful. Spend a greater part of your life looking at others. Enjoy your reflection fleetingly. Be a graceful, loving being.
(It can’t be! God, no! Please, no!) [Backs away from enormous screwdriver.]
Do all of the above with an air of nuance and moderation. Confidence underwritten by grace and hard work is a thing of granite beauty – it is Mount Rushmore, Mother Theresa or Nelson Mandela. Confidence borne of insubstantial fluff, empty bravado, competitive scrabbling or character assassination is a thing crouched and withholding – it is a doped athlete, a vacuous star or a corrupt politician.
Tip the balance too far and you run the risk of becoming just another tool in your own toolbox.
(A little help here? Can anybody hear me out there?!)
[Rubs prick in the gloom.]