Tuesday, 25 August 2020

Finding Your True Teacher Persona

 In Mary Myatt's ResearchEd training video she reminds those working in education that they are 'human beings first, professionals second'. It's a theme I've touched on before when I wrote about how we might avoid allowing judgments about our teaching define us as people.

However, there are other benefits to remembering what Mary so neatly sums up. If we are human beings first, then our professional selves should take our cues from our 'human' selves.

Many teachers spend a chunk of their career trying to work out how to present themselves in the classroom. Back in my early years it was seeing other teachers in action that most influenced this, as well as taking feedback from them when they observed me. There was also the notion of an 'Ofsted-lesson': a checklist (often a physical, literal checklist) of things that should be included to get a Good or Outstanding grading. In addition to this, many teachers, some who have harboured a desire to be in the profession since the days of lining up their teddies and taking the register, have pre-conceived ideas of what a teacher should do, and how they should act, in the classroom - often based on their own experiences of being a child at school. Most of these are great places to draw inspiration from, yet they are not enough.

Nowadays, I suspect much influence comes from social media: what the teachers of Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook are doing can cause a teacher to believe that they too should be doing those things. However, the nature of the medium means that the influence is largely aesthetic: what might a display/book corner/work outfit/art activity look like? Social media communicates little of how a teacher might act within the visually rich (or otherwise) environments they've created. This has the potential to fool us into thinking that because someone possesses a classroom we admire, they must also have it all sussed out in the actual teaching department - there is very little way of knowing whether or not this is the case.

In both scenarios - whether we watch our colleagues teach or scroll through Twitter looking for creative ideas - we potentially miss out one of the most important influencing factors: ourselves - our true, human being selves.

Who are you? 

What are your interests? 

How do you interact with the people you feel closest to? 

How would you describe yourself in three words?

What makes you tick in real life?

It's these things that should form the greatest part of your teaching personality, or persona. If you think your defining characteristic is how humourous you are, then use humour in your classroom - even if it sarcasm that you major in. If you're not that funny, don't try to be in the classroom as it won't come across as genuine. If you know that its your quirkiness that makes you tick when with your friends, transport that into the classroom and allow the children to see the true you. If you know that actually, in real life you are really introverted, you don't necessarily have to create an extroverted teacher persona - a quiet and thoughtful teaching style will benefit children too. 

The last thing you want to do, and I'm afraid I probably tried to do this for far too many years, is try to be someone else in the classroom. Whether that's trying to ape the teacher who has been on the job for years, your super-dynamic year group partner, your favourite TV/movie teacher or just the idea of the ideal teacher that you've pieced together after years of being taught by teachers. If those teachers as human beings are different to how you are as a human being, why should your teaching personas appear to be the same?

I believe it is a good thing for children to experience a range of personalities in their classrooms as they move through school. After all, it hardly prepares them for the big wide world that they are already abroad in to only experience one kind of person. Teachers are hugely significant adults in children's lives and it is part of our job to share with them the diversity that exists in the world: everyone is different, and (cheese alert) the best person to be is yourself. Children need to see this example set. They need to be able to transition from working with an extroverted, larger-than-life year 1 teacher, to a more introverted, calming year 2 teacher, to a hilariously wacky year 3 teacher, to a nurturing but minimalistic year 4 teacher, and so on. 

Children need teachers to be who they really are. Yes, there are many times when teaching feels like a performance - a time when we don the theatrical costume and step outside of our comfort zone - but at the same time, for long-term impact there must be a defining element of authenticity in what we do. Relationships are key when it comes to teaching and relationships based on falsehoods, I'm sure I don't really need to point out, are doomed to fail. Children are often very perceptive, too: they, unwittingly, are looking for real connection, and will sense when a teacher is having to try too hard to be something they are not. 

If a teacher is putting much of their effort into hiding who they really are, instead applying it all to generating a facade, children may well pick up on this. Children aren't looking for the next TV entertainer, they aren't looking for a replacement of Miss So-and-so from last year, they aren't looking for a new mate - they are looking for a teacher who they can be sure and certain of. They are looking for someone who is transparent who they can trust, someone who they feel safe with. When a teacher feels safe with their human being self, that confidence will exude and children too will feel safe.

And your you-ness is never static - you are probably constantly adding strings to your bow: taking up new hobbies, exploring new reading material, visiting new places, making new friends - all these things subtly change us as human beings. I am certainly a very different person to who I was when I was an NQT - my life experiences have changed me significantly (and hopefully for the better). 

If you took some time to answer the questions above - and I suggest that at some point you do - and felt yourself lacking (I hope you didn't, because no-one is lacking in their own personality) then some self-discovery (sorry - bit of an icky phrase) might be useful: spending some time in reflection about what makes you you, writing about your life experiences or speaking to friends, family or colleagues about how they might answer those questions about you could help.

Whatever you do this year, however Pinterest-worthy your classroom is, however many children's books you read, however many weekend CPD events you attend, make sure that you prioritise allowing your true, genuine, human being self to be the armature onto which you build your teacher persona. With The Current Situation, and All That's Being Going On in these Unprecendented Times, children will be returning to school after the summer looking for security -  a security which they will easily find in a teacher who is secure in themselves, confident that they are presenting a true version of themselves in the classroom.

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