Before I get started today, I want to send out a big Thank You to all the readers of this blog. Several days ago, we went over 90,000 total pageviews. When I first started writing these essays, I would have bet a gazillion dollars that I’d never get 5,000 pageviews. And, I would not have gotten to even that lower mark without folks like you passing along good words about this site. Thanks – I would have probably stopped writing years ago except that the traffic remains strong and actually seems to grow over time. You provide the energy. I continue to be convinced that people really do like to think and talk about teaching because it is both extremely important to our lives and our future and a whole lot of fun.
A new school year is starting. For me, it will be my 43rd year in the classroom. I have written before that I believe every teacher should consider the “teaching personality” that you want to have with your students. This is a great time to reconsider that question. Do you want to be a fiery pulpit pastor who inspires everyone to do better with their lives or do you want to be a kindly nurse who helps everyone get well? Do you want to be a coach who pushes everyone toward a winning grade or Socrates who prods student thinking with careful questions? Those are all legitimate teaching personalities but you probably cannot be all things to all students. You have to choose.
I think contemplating the idea of a teaching personality is important because, without one, it is easy to simply become a mechanical conveyor of information. Columbus landed in the Americas in 1492. Raleigh is the capital of North Carolina. There’s nothing too exciting about that. It doesn’t even sound terribly important. I would argue that many teachers let themselves fall into a classroom role that really doesn’t seem important. They then wonder why students aren’t inclined to do what they ask. Maybe it is not the students’ fault but the personality you are projecting.
As I have mentioned previously, I was out in Anaheim, California, a few weeks ago at the American Accounting Association annual meeting. I was sitting at a table one morning with several excellent teachers and this question of “who are you in the classroom?” came up. It was an interesting conversation because several people knew right away their personality model while others seemed mystified by the question.
Historically, I have given one answer to that question but on that morning I gave a different answer. People are entitled to change/evolve over time. My comment was that I viewed myself as “half drill sergeant” because I push each of my students almost unmercifully to succeed. In the military, the drill sergeant is in charge of turning weak civilians into strong soldiers who can survive in combat. That requires the sergeant to get in their faces and drive them to go beyond what they ever thought they could accomplish. My goal is to turn students (who come to me knowing little or nothing about accounting) into people who can go out into the business world and be successful. I don’t want half of them to reach that goal. I want them all to make it through. During the semester, that drive is on my mind all of the time. I feel, in a nutshell, that my responsibility as a college teacher is to push my students to succeed in learning and understanding.
However, I also view myself as “half cheerleader.” Yes, I demand great things from my students but I also try to help them believe in themselves and their ability to succeed. I am not out to crush their spirits. I want to drive them but I also want to encourage them and show them how to succeed.
Only speaking for myself, I would not want to be one without the other. Being only a drill sergeant seems almost sadistic. Being only a cheerleader seems almost useless. But, if I can successful merge those two personalities, I can push everyone forward. I don’t care if the students like me or not (I have enough friends). I do care, though, if they do not make the progress that I think they are capable of making. Some need more drill sergeant. Some need more cheerleader. My goal is to figure out what I can do to help each of them learn and understand and make use of the information we cover.
However, keep in mind: That is my teaching personality. It works for me. You are a different person. Your goal should never be to become me. Your goal should be to become the kind of teacher that YOU want to be.
So, before the 2013-2014 school year gets started in a few days, think about the teaching personality that you want. What do you want to accomplish and what type of personality is most likely to get you there?
Who are you as a teacher?