Nurturing my Identity

Sundays are not part of my commitment to #40daysofwriting on #lentblog, but nevertheless I find myself musing and writing about aspects of my identity that I’ve become more self-aware of in the last year. Last Sunday, I wrote about identity and how so much of it is wrapped up in my performance in my job. Today I go on to considering what I’ve done to diminish the negative draws on my identity and increase the positive ones.

I consider that I have quite an addictive personality. I get into things with a great deal of enthusiasm and then find myself thinking about them with every thought and doing them with every spare minute. This has often been to my advantage as a teacher – give me a topic that I’m interested in and I’ll throw myself into it wholeheartedly.

Two years ago I got really into developing the school website. I spent every Monday evening often working until beyond midnight trying to make it better, doing things I’d seen others do, making it inspirational. Really the website should have been a long way down my list of priorities. I could have delegated the responsibility, I could have outsourced it to focus on my core role. But no, I worked so hard on it until I actually found myself failing at other things I should have been doing. Finally realisation struck. The obsession had become part of my identity  – I was using it to define myself: “I’m the deputy head who can make great websites”. But the obsession was draining. It was taking time away from more important aspects of my work and more importantly, my family. I had to stop it.

There have been other examples too, sometimes with work, sometimes with gaming, sometimes with social media – getting into something that on its own would be harmless but the depth that I’ve worked at it has been obsessive and damaging. Instead of a computer game being a moment of fun it becomes part of my identity. As Tozer says: “the roots of our hearts have grown down into things and we dare not pull up one rootlet lest we die.” That’s me with the things I obsess about.

So what I’ve done about it? Well in summary: less of the bad stuff, more of the good stuff.

Diminishing the bad stuff

1. Keeping my phone downstairs, especially at weekends.
2. Having a day each weekend (normally Sunday) when no work is done and the minimum of screens are used.
3. Having an evening each week when I do no work.

Increasing the good stuff

1. Praying more.
2. Spending more time with my wife.
3. Choosing to meet friends instead of playing computer games or working.
4. Reading books (up until last Summer, I hadn’t read a book in 2 years.
5. Blogging to reflect rather than to gain popularity.

Of course, I’m not there yet. Physical exercise – running, swimming and cycling especially –  is something I need to do more of, and have to admit that in the middle of this term, my wife and family were still somewhat neglected in favour of work. I I wrote my “nurturing identity” report, it might say: trying had but could do better.

ref: “The Pursuit of God” by A.W. Tozer: chapter 2 The blessedness of possessing nothing

I’m only as good as my last… [fill in the blank]

Sundays do not count towards the 40 days of lent, so I’m in my rights to give up my writing for the day, as it won’t contribute towards the #40daysofwriting I’ve taken up for Lent. However, I’ve decided to continue writing on Sundays, but make these posts less educationish and more reflective.

This one’s about identity.

I heard it commented this week how Jose Mourinho’s ‘stock had fallen’ in recent times. The ex-Chelsea and Real Madrid manager has won more than most and has an international reputation. Yet like all of us he’s only as good as his last game or his last season. And if it was failure, then it can’t be very good.

I feel the same.

I’m only as good as my last… [fill in the blank]. For most teachers the blank is filled in like this: [observed lesson].

For me, I feel this pressure too. I place much of my identity in what people say about my teaching. Especially observers. When I was observed in the school’s previous Ofsted in 2012, I was so delighted by the inspector’s judgement of ‘Outstanding’ that I wrote an extensive post about it. I was proud. I was successful. I was ‘outstanding’.

But this year, when my headteacher saw me teach in September he said my teaching required improvement. I had positioned myself with my back to some children. These children then went off task during the lesson so a significant group had not made progress. It was irrelevant that this was my first reading lesson in 5 years (I had been doing maths interventions during that period). Some children had not made progress during the lesson. I was disappointed. I was down on myself. I ‘required improvement’.

Two opposite experiences had occurred, each one with an effect on my identity. Because it has become clear to me that I place much of my self-worth in my competence at my job. But surely my identity is more than that.

At the top of my blog I label myself ‘educator and pub-theorist’ (the latter not because I spend all my time in a pub, but because most of my theories are worthy of being generated in such a place). On Twitter I have labelled myself as ‘frogphilp’, perhaps indicating a slight irreverence and lack of seriousness. I am a dad, a husband, a son. I am a gamer, a whisky drinker, a guitarist.

And yet for all these different aspects of my identity, the thing that knocks me back the most is having a bad observation.

I’ve been considering both the negative and positive factors on my identity over recent months in the light of the negative emotions brought about by the negative observation. I think that for me there are things that I can do that make me more vulnerable to a negative reaction like I had, but there are also things that I can do that protect me and make me more resilient to such reactions. But that’s a post for next Sunday.