When I have to teach my students the word ‘habit’ and how to use it, I often go around the room asking each one of them what their worst habit is, and sometimes the bold ones will turn the tables on me and ask me what’s mine. I often respond along the lines of drinking too much coffee or eating too much chocolate. But I’ve just realised that my worst habit is actually far worse than that.
My worst habit is that I am forever starting things and then not finishing them – a habit that stems from childhood. I feel like I should stand up in a room and declare, “Hello. My name’s Mrs. D and I’m a quit-aholic. It’s been two hours since I abandoned my most recent project.”
Think I’m joking? Think again!
At sixteen, I gave up A-level French because after being top of my French class for years, it came as a shock to find that I was struggling with the language at non-phrase book level.
“You give up too easily,” said one of my classmates.
Well I couldn’t argue with that!
Fast forward several years and I’ve lost count of the number of home study courses that are still incomplete; the lessons for singing, dancing, and various instruments that I stopped attending early on; those books that are falling off my bookcase on subjects I’d always said I’d wanted to know more about but never managed to get past the introduction; the language CDs and DVDs which taught me hello and goodbye in many languages but not much else. Then there are the craft kits that are collecting dust, the work-out equipment that looks just as it did when I brought them home from the shops, the blog posts I started last year but haven’t got round to finishing; the drafts of plays, short stories, and novels that I always mean to work on; my ideas for new business ventures that remain just that…
And these are just the ones I can remember. It all starts off so well with so much interest and enthusiasm. But as soon as I realise that it’s not going to be as easy as I thought it would be or I feel I don’t possess enough natural talent, I start to lose interest and lack the patience and perseverance necessary to keep going, which explains the reason why I only ever touch upon the basics (if that!)
I’ve figured out what my problem, no, make that problems are. The first is having a finger, thumb and toe in every pie as I have waaay too many related and unrelated interests. This leads to sloppy time management as there just aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything, which in turn leads to an inability to focus because I’m trying to do too much and end up feeling overwhelmed. I’m also an impatient perfectionist who wants everything to go swimmingly the first time I attempt it. I have a deep-rooted fear of making a fool of myself, and then to top it all off, I have a tendency to procrastinate, especially when I feel that whatever I try to accomplish is never going to culminate in the desired result anyway. Here you have a recipe for never getting anything done. And many of my likeminded, ‘creative type’ friends agree with me. We’re just so inquisitive and curious about everything and want to give it a go. We have a million things whirling around our heads like a cyclone. And then just as quickly as our interest appeared, it starts to wane, and we then move onto the next big thing.
Well I’m glad to know I’m not the only one!
But without meaning to sound overly dramatic (even though Mr. D says no one does overly dramatic quite like I do) I had a flash back to when I was five and we were practising for sports day at school. I had been put in the skipping race even though I couldn’t skip to save my life. Feeling deflated at being laughed at and ridiculed by the other kids, I persuaded my mum to buy me a skipping rope. That weekend she did. From morning until evening honing my skipping skills was pretty much all I did. And do you know what? None of the other kids ever laughed at me again. Do you know why? Because I was lethal with a skipping rope (and not because I tried to whack them with it. Although I probably should have done!)
Recalling this event has restored a lot of my inner confidence. It reminded me that with a lot of determination, hard work, and persistence you really can achieve anything – that’s not just talk show host speak! I remember that five year old who had enough fire in her belly to go out there and show everyone that she had what it took. She didn’t think that it was too complicated or unachievable. She didn’t listen to those who said that she couldn’t do it. Perhaps it’s time I followed my younger self’s example.
But then I realised that the determination of my younger self did crop up over the years. It was that determination that helped me achieve two degrees; fulfil my dream of studying drama; train as a florist; pass my driving test (something my dad thought was never going to happen) and carve out a career as a teacher for the past seven years. I certainly didn’t give up at the first hurdle there. Maybe I do have it in me to get things done after all.
I feel angry at myself for allowing this habit to continue for as long as it has. I’ve missed out on developing new skills and interests not to mention wasting sh**loads of money. But now that I’ve realised where I’ve gone wrong, I don’t have to allow this habit to continue. First of all I need to accept that I’ll never be able to give my attention to everything at once so I’ll need to prioritise and concentrate on what’s most important to me. And once I’ve done that, I’m going to dedicate some time each day or each week (even if it’s just a little time) to a particular activity and really make a promise to myself to go for it. After all I owe it to myself to try – plus I want to get my money’s worth out of all the stuff I’ve bought! I can always give the other interests a go when I’ve fulfilled these goals.
And I’ve also got to stop getting so hung up on being able to do everything perfectly. We can’t all be brilliant at the first attempt, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m always telling my students that with practice and patience, you’ll make vast improvements so maybe it’s time I took some of my own advice. Until then, I’ll just have to accept that I’m going to suck! Who cares if I can’t ice a cake properly? I’m not Mary Berry! So what if I can’t rock a guitar like Slash? At least I’ll have fun trying. I heard someone say recently that it was better to do something badly than not at all, and that is all the inspiration I need (unless of course the doing something badly is flying a plane, performing life saving surgery or firing a gun in which case it really is better not to do them at all!)
I’m going to leave you with this fantastic piece of advice from the legend that is Dave Grohl which is a reminder that even the greats don’t always start out as great. Sure, you might be pants today, but tomorrow people might be throwing their pants at you while you’re rocking out on stage!
Right, now I’m off to a car boot sale to buy some sh**ty instruments and start putting all those ‘teach yourself’ guitar and drum books and DVDs to good use!
I feel a little sad today.
I had to say goodbye to a student who had been in my class since April. He was a delightful student and an absolute pleasure to teach. I only wish all of my students could be like him.
I’m thankful that I work in an EFL college and not in a mainstream school as I really don’t think I’d have been able to handle the pressures that go along with that territory – mainly difficult pupils and their even more ridiculously difficult parents. I have family and friends who work in secondary schools so I hear the horror stories. But that doesn’t mean that I haven’t come across my fair share of awful behaviour. I’ve had students who are impolite, arrogant, ignorant and thoroughly unpleasant to be around. They’re apparently here to learn English so as to improve their chances of getting work, but who on earth would want to hire people with that attitude who are more than old enough to know better, I really don’t know. There have been times I’ve dreaded going into class – which is a ridiculous thing to say seeing as I’m the teacher – but that just goes to show how miserable the situation can sometimes be. All I can do is hope and pray for the day when the worst of the bunch leave – although I have no idea why it takes so long!
And then there’s the other end of the spectrum. There’s the kind of student who makes you want to go into class every day. They’re attentive, courteous, eager to learn, full of questions, respectful, and always have time for a laugh and a joke. Basically, they’re smiley, happy people – my kind of people. And you just know that, unlike the above, they have all the qualities that will see them go far in life and succeed. I certainly hope so because the world is in short supply of fantastic people like these and we could do with more of them.
So my brilliant student who has finished his course and is now heading home to continue with life as normal has inspired me to write this post. But my students actually inspire me in more ways than they know – even though it’s probably my job to inspire them. They’re the reason why I work hard at being a better teacher, and why I try to be more patient, understanding and encouraging. But they’ve inspired me in other ways too. I see what they do and I want to be more like them. No, I don’t mean getting legless at the school parties we have at clubs around the city – although I have no problem with that! But I see the effort they put into learning a language; the experiences they’re having; the countries they’re visiting; their love of travel; the way their eyes light up when they see something new… and it makes me want to experience some of that for myself. So much so I’ve decided to get back into studying languages again and would love to experience time away in another country.
It’s not just the students who are learning…
…teacher is too – and I have my amazing students to thank for that.