Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Who Are YOU?

As we start a new semester, I think it is an important idea to stop and think about who we are as teachers. The word "teacher" can mean a lot of things -- as a teacher, who do you really want to be? Below is an essay from my teaching tips book that talks about making that determination. I've always thought it was helpful to actually know who you wanted to be.
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As a teacher, I think it is important to have a clear self-concept of your own “teaching personality.” Who are you? Maybe more to the point, who do you really want to be at key moments? Do you have what I occasionally refer to as a “personality role model?”

That term does not allude to a teacher whom you have known, as in the preliminar exercise at the start of this book, but an actual role model for your teaching style. For example, when making presentations to fellow educators, I often distribute a list of names such as the following and ask the participants to select the one individual with whom they most closely identify when it comes to their teaching personality. Or, better still, if none of these names suits them, they can come up with a personal choice. This can provide excellent insight as they tread the steps of their teaching journey. So, with whom do you identify as an educator?

---Attila the Hun – a cruel but victorious warrior
---Billy Graham – a fiery orator who shows Heaven and Hell to his listeners
---Dr. Dolittle – a learned man who talks to the animals every day
---Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – a person with multiple personalities, some good and some
evil
---Florence Nightingale – a person dedicated to healing the afflicted
---General Patton – a dynamic, charismatic soldier and leader
---Gil Favor – on the 1960s television series “Rawhide,” he was the trail boss who was in charge of moving the cattle to market
---Jay Leno – a comedian who keeps his audience constantly entertained
---Leonard Bernstein – a conductor who brings the entire orchestra together to make beautiful music
---Martin Luther King Jr. – a leader who truly made a difference in society as we know it
---Meryl Streep – a talented actress, always playing different roles
---Moses – the man who led the children of Israel out of the wilderness
---Mother Teresa – a saintly person who cared deeply about every individual, especially the afflicted
---Mr. Wizard – in early television, a character who seemed to have the answer to every possible question
---Santa Claus – a kindly fellow who gives out gifts to good boys and girls
---Socrates – a wise person who guides students to understanding by means of questions
---The Marquis de Sade – a sadist who enjoyed the pain of others
---Vince Lombardi – a championship football coach known for motivating his players to
do their best

Most people who have been students in college can probably recollect certain of these characters as being among their own teachers. I know, for certain, that my education included a Mr. Wizard and a Jay Leno, not to mention a couple versions of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I only wish that I had experienced a Santa Claus or, perhaps, a Mother Teresa.

With whom do you identify? I feel that being a teacher becomes a bit more directed when a person has a personality role model. For me, that one individual has always been Vince Lombardi. During his years as the football coach of the Green Bay Packers, his teams seemed to win the championship game virtually every year. He was probably best known for taking average players and turning them into winners. This concept greatly appeals to me: working with average people to achieve outstanding
results. One of Lombardi’s quotes has often guided me both personally and in the manner in which I interact with my students: “A man can be as great as he wants to be. If you believe in yourself and have the courage, the determination, the dedication, the competitive drive and if you are willing to sacrifice the little things in life and pay the price for the things that are worthwhile, it can be done.” That seems to be excellent advice for both teacher and student.

Over the years of my teaching career, there have been a seemingly infinite number of times when I have been thoroughly stuck as to what action to take when faced with a troubling situation. After running out of easy options, I inevitably scratch my head and ask myself: “Wonder what Vince Lombardi would do in this case?” In all honesty, I do not always follow the path to resolution that he probably would have taken. However, simply framing the question in this manner helps me organize and direct my often scattered thinking. The real question, of course, is: What action is really appropriate for me here? Even as I near age 60, I think it is great to have role model to provide guidance.

The Vince Lombardi personality model has guided my teaching in other ways. For example, he never seemed to over-emphasize individual games during the season but,rather, focused on winning championships at the end of the year. Likewise, I attempt to keep my eye directed toward the desired end-results. As much as possible, my concentration is solely on the potential positive changes that can be engendered in my students by the conclusion of the term. How will a particular action today impact their overall long-term development? I have never been much interested in short-term results but, rather, my priority is in maximizing the amount of progress achieved by each student from the beginning of the semester to the end.

But the goal here is not to follow me. Consider your own personality and teaching style. Everyone is unique. Are you more like General Patton or Florence Nightingale when you slip into your “teacher mode?” Had they been educators, those two would have probably approached their classes with widely different tactics and strategies. Yet, my guess is that each would have achieved significant success.

I often tell my students that “nothing in this class ever happens by accident.” Good
teaching is not a random series of unfortunate events; it is a logically thought-out process based on the teacher’s vision of education. Having a personality role model can help guide the design and creation of the structure that anchors your classes. The essential question comes back to: Who do you really want to be when it comes to orchestrating the education of your students?

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