I am a perfectionist. It’s not that everything I do is perfect. Far from it. I just mean that perfection is my affliction. As Merlin Mann says, “What makes you feel less bored soon makes you into an addict.” I am addicted to organization.

Being organized is a good thing. Finding a better way to do things is the essence of productivity. For a teacher, staying organized is a matter of survival. Procedures and methods that don’t work and take up too much time undermine our ability to do our jobs. I am a problem solver, always learning better ways to do my job.

I have learned, too, that the people who run schools, write curriculum, and make decisions about what teachers ought to do are less concerned about productivity and learning than they are about money and lawsuits. Why else would they produce three-page forms for us to fill out when one student calls another student “stupid”?

It is up to teachers to figure out how to get through the obstacle course of paper work, meetings, and requirements so we can do our jobs.

But this is not a rant about how schools ought to be run. This is a meditation on perfectionism, a confession of my addiction.

I have always been the one with the neat desk, the organized file cabinet, the grade book other teachers would sigh over. “You’re so organized!” I hear this all the time, and it only feeds my desire to improve.

For a perfectionist like me, moving from paper to a computer is like stepping up from codeine to crack. There are a thousand more ways to be organized on a computer, a thousand ways to waste time organizing instead of getting the work done.

That is the point, isn’t it? Being organized helps us get more done. But it is possible to spend more time working on the ‘method’ than on the material. That is my problem.

My grade book at one point became so complicated that even I couldn’t figure it out easily. If  student asked me for their grade, I would have to say, “I’ll tell you tomorrow, when I’ve everything added up.” The problem wasn’t addition, though. It was interpreting all the numbers I had carefully recorded.

The teacher with the messy desk who can never find what she’s looking for gets more essays graded than I do. I am still perfecting my rubric, looking for the best grading program, trying to decide whether to use numbers or letters.

The word ‘perfect’ comes from Latin. It means ‘complete.’ If the job gets done, it doesn’t really matter how neatly it was done, or whether it followed the best protocol and procedures. It’s done.

On to the next thing.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Expressmom
    Oct 10, 2010 @ 14:12:57

    As a fellow perfectionist I can completely relate. I like to keep this in mind with perfection afflicted students as well.

    I had an “outlining” obsession as a student. I mastered those capital letters, Roman numerals, little letters… my notes could have a place in a museum.

    But, I never had time to study them. It took hours and hours. (This in the days before computers, so one error meant starting from the very beginning!)

    I find I say to ‘perfect’ students “Good enough is enough on this project!”


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