A lot of young people I know are heading into teaching. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.
Part One: Voice and Personality
Go to any teacher’s website, or read a copy of their newsletter. Listen to some of them teach. What do you notice?
We all sound depressingly similar.
We’re all thrilled and excited to be teaching, we all encourage our students to be life-long learners, and we all have fun and exciting things planned in our safe and caring classrooms. And when you step inside that classroom, it can all too often be a chorus of identical phrases and commands learned from teacher manuals and institute day workshops. We “appreciate” the way students follow directions, we “appreciate” a parent’s suggestion or request, we “appreciate” a staff member’s comment in a meeting.
I’m not sure why this is the case. Maybe we’re too addicted to the step-by-step curriculum that’s been forced on us over the years, too used to following specific instructions that encourage the use of common and easily identifiable words and phrases. Maybe we’re afraid to talk like regular folks, with our own personalities and senses of humor, and instead we hide behind safe teacher phrases in order to avoid the shock and potential backlash of daring to talk like a real person. We all hear the horror stories of an irate parent or a student who misinterprets something said in class, and it pushes us towards a bland and toothless way of communicating so as to avoid any controversy.
Most teachers who choose to speak and instruct this way go through their entire career cheerfully following orders, teaching the curriculum exactly as its prescribed, providing their students fun and exciting life-long learning opportunities in a safe and caring learning environment. They are a committee-produced mission statement come to life. Years from now, former students will strain to recall their names, one bland unimaginative teacher melting into the next.
If you hope to develop any sort of positive relationship, or gain any measure of respect from your students, their parents, and your colleagues, one of the most important things you can do is to develop and maintain a clear, individual voice and personality. If you want to be one of those teachers that inspires and encourages kids to do great things, then figure out who you are, and what makes you unique in that classroom and in that school. When you are talking in class, or sending out information to parents, or even updating your classroom website, you need to communicate in your voice, not the standard playbook of a million other teachers.
While this isn’t the only Secret To Being An Amazing Teacher, it’s where you need to start. And don’t be afraid to mess up sometimes; occasionally, you’ll get strange looks from kids or puzzled parents and principals if you stumble while developing that voice. Just defend yourself, explain what you meant, and don’t revert back to that robotic persona so many teachers are forced to adopt out of fear of trying anything different. Be funny, be irreverent, be strange and weird and nerdy and enthusiastic about strange and weird and nerdy things. Share your love of rugby, or the outdoors, or Loudon Wainwright songs about dead skunks in the middle of the road.
Remember: it’s your room, your methods, your students, and your voice.
Coming Soon: Part Two, where I reveal that Actually, No, It’s Not About You