On Being Myself

One of the hardest struggles I’ve had since becoming a teacher is in the tension I feel between being my real self and being a teacher self that I have created.  This is easy for me to track back to its beginnings.  I came to teaching through a residency program where I co-taught with a veteran teacher, who acted as my mentor, for an entire school year.  I learned so much from my mentor that year about the art and professionalism of teaching, but our personalities were very different. This was good for me as a learner because I had come to teaching with a background in youth work where it was basically my job to be a friend to teenagers, so one thing I wanted to focus on during my residency year was the question, “What does an appropriate teacher-student relationship look like?” because I knew I wasn’t supposed to just be their friend.  My mentor had a friendly-enough, though distant, demeanor with his students, but mostly he was in charge. And everyone in the room knew it. He was a big, gregarious middle-aged man, a coach, a not-afraid-to-raise-my-voice-to-assert-dominance-if-needed kind of guy. An extrovert. None of these, save ‘man’ (and now I suppose coach, although I’ve yet to officially coach anyone through a season of anything after a year with the title) would be accurate to describe me. But, being in his room, with his rules, where all scores ultimately reflected on him, I chose, to the extent possible, to mirror his personality for the year; giving the students what I thought was a simplified expectation for how to interact with two teachers in one room, and removing the possibility of choosing favorites or playing us against each other like a child who asks their mom for ice cream after their dad says ‘no’.

And, for the year, it worked. And I learned a lot.

But the next year, when I was on my own, I found it hard to then separate what it meant to be a teacher from what it meant to mirror my mentor. The two, unconsciously,  became almost inseparable. Each year since then, I feel like I have reclaimed some part of myself and reintegrated that into my teacher self, but largely, I still feel like I am playing a character when I teach.

I am an ISFP, which, if you’re not familiar with the Myers Briggs Personality Type Indicators basically means that structure is hard for me. I prefer spontaneity and exploration to planning and rules. Read: certain aspects of teaching are hard. (This goes for any of the four personality types with the S and P together [ISFP, ISTP, ESFP, and ESTP], and because of these discrepancies between what we want and what is expected of us, it is estimated that SPs make up only 4% of all teachers and are the quickest to leave the profession. Since you asked (?), the magic combination for teachers is S and J [ISFJ, ISTJ, ESFJ, and ESTJ] These people love rules, structure and feel a civic duty to follow whoever is in authority.  SJs are estimated to make up 56% of all teachers and last the longest. NFs do pretty well too because they also love structure.* Phew!) But I love the teaching aspects of teaching and long to incorporate my love for exploration, creativity and asking questions into my teaching practice.  Something that I think P(r)BL, Inquiry and all the good stuff we know we should be doing does a good job of, and something I think the CCSS does a much better job of than the Tennessee State Standards.

It’s hard for me to feel the freedom to break away because, in a sense, I’d be learning how to teach all over again. But playing a part everyday is taxing, and I know I could do it better as myself.  Last year was so tough for me, but maybe it was the catalyst I needed to drop the facade.  I feel good about this year.


*These stats are from a workshop I attended for my STEM fellowship this year.  I am looking for the official citation for the study, but can’t find it yet.  I will update with to attribute when I do.



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