Be You in the Classroom

By:

Teacher in the classroom

I never thought of myself as a teacher until I truly became one. In my mind, I really thought anyone could be a teacher because I believed a teacher was just a character an adult played. If you knew and loved your content all you had to do was create your character and teach.  

Media has given us plenty of teacher personas to choose from and as I went through my pre-service classes I began to select and edit my teacher qualities. I knew from my own high school experience and media consumption I wanted to be a perfect balance of fun and firm. I’d be caring in a way that felt more like a friend instead of a parent. I’d dress business casual to show authority but would make a deliberate effort to keep up with current youth culture. I would hide my true self by deflecting all personal inquiries back to the kids. “Make meaningful relationships but protect yourself,” as so many of my pre-service professors would tell me. “It’s just better if students think of you as only a teacher.”  

What no one mentioned was how utterly uncomfortable, damaging, and downright awful playing this role would be.  

I hid the best and most crucial parts of me from the very people who needed and wanted to see me. And for what? I was miserable. Every day I wanted to dress, talk, and act the way I did with family and friends. I wanted to share stories about my awesome weekend events or hang pictures of my children and wife. I wanted to be me, but I let compliance and fear suppress my instinct, all to preserve the status quo.   

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I decided enough was enough, but I have a strong suspicion it started right around the time I decided I was no longer going to wear v neck sweaters, slacks, and cap toe oxfords. Hoodies, jeans, and Jordans helped to unlock my preferred vernacular which quickly gave way to a waterfall of sharing the authentic me. 

To be fully antiracist you must first start with yourself, and for me, I needed to reflect on why I had decided to lock my humanity away. Dropping the teacher character I had created was the most important and crucial event of my teaching career because everything after that changed dramatically for the better.  

I was more open, so my students were more open. Classroom management was no longer an issue because relationships and respect were easier to maintain and share. We laughed and had fun. 

The environment was relaxed, and you could see shoulders drop and breath release as students and colleagues entered the room. Learning changed and I knew it the moment students began to ask more questions, then they began to ask better questions, more complex questions. Friendly collaboration began to happen organically as students wanted to help their peers along, especially when I was checking in one-on-one with others. We became family.  

Students are more than just tiny people who need to be filled. They have experiences and personalities, values, and thoughts. They are valuable, and the moment I decided to drop all the authoritative-esque character traits they felt it. They knew something was different and because it was real, they could be real. It’s worth taking a moment to ask yourself, am I a character or me in the classroom?