Middle School Hero

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Sep 12 2013

Crafting a persona

One of the pieces of advice that I remember hearing over and over at Institute was the need to develop my own personal teacher persona. “Don’t try to be someone else”, they would say. Just develop your own style and your own way of infusing the slew of information we picked up during Institute and inevitably would while on the job.

That seemed like a simple proposition. See, I can fly into extroversion at the drop of a hat. As an athlete, I was always the high-energy benchwarmer who hovered around, waving towels and grabbing water bottles. I could absolutely see this translating into the classroom. Watching videos of exceptional teachers, I always gravitated towards the whirlwinds who whipped around the room in a frenzy, keeping energy levels up and kids inspired to learn. I remember thinking to myself, “Yup. That’s my teaching style right there. Done.”

Well, you know how my first year went.

I didn’t make any conscious changes to my classroom personality but I did come in with new priorities. I am determined this year to solve all problems without writing referals, sending students outside, or holding them more than a few seconds after class because these all cut into precious instructional time. I’m also making a conscious effort to be extremely fair because I know some of my students didn’t feel that I was last year.

In doing so, my teacher personality has absolutely shifted without me even noticing. This year, I’ve toned the energy way down. I’ve turned the friendship down (Gary R, I’m sure you’re laughing as you remember this post). I’ve also turned the group work and the student input down.

And my classroom has never been better.

As I type those words, I’m struck by how crazy that sounds. Energy, friendship, group work, and student input and choice all sound like great things. But they made my classroom a chaotic place.

Now, my class is quiet.

Now, my class is focused on learning for almost the entire hour.

Now, my class is a place where respect (almost always) prevails.

I’ll admit that I’ve still got a long ways to go but I’m already closer to these students after six weeks than I was to my students after an entire year last year and it’s all due to the calming influence that my classroom has become.

The funny thing is that as I’ve stepped away from all these things, I’m freer with my kids. I get to joke around with them more and they are more open with me. It’s great!

Constructing the ideal teacher persona can be a challenge, especially because the front of the classroom is such a foreign place for many of us. However, once we are able to find that balance, work becomes fun. Who knew?

4 Responses

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  2. Shannon

    This is all very helpful. If I ever do get into teaching, I will keep this stuff in mind. It doesn’t make any sense that TFA pushes so hard against this idea. It’s not being disingenuous- it’s just the adult reality that you can’t always be “you” (or ALL of “you”) at work.

  3. Gary Rubinstein

    Great post. It is a shame that ‘just be yourself’ is still part of the TFA advice after all these years. Warning people about the danger of this oversimplified advice was a chapter from ‘Reluctant Disciplinarian’ and also a part of my workshop I used to present. (You can see a 30 year old me doing the workshop here in 1999 http://garyrubinstein.teachforus.org/2012/07/06/classroom-management-how-about-anger-management/ )

  4. Anthony

    Wow — I can see myself in this blog post! Sounds like you learned a lot of lessons your first year. I, too, was way too energetic and friendly my first year — I thought I could be the next Justin Meli (YouTube it, if you weren’t forced to watch his videos at Institute), but that just led to a disaster of a first year. I think we’d both have benefited from watching Gary’s video/seminar presentation on discipline prior to beginning teaching. It’s a shame that TFA has seemingly blackballed such an incredibly helpful way of understanding classroom culture, discipline and management. Best of luck with your second year!

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