Leaning Into The TEAcher Mindset
Think about your least favorite teacher. Sorry, not the nicest way to start this post (it will get nicer, I promise), but humor me for a moment and mentally identify your least favorite teacher. Now, make a mental list of everything you know about them, personally. What were their hobbies? What were they passionate about? List some facts about his/her family, too, while you’re at it.
Okay, now think about your absolute favorite teacher (see, I promised it would get nicer, and I delivered!) and make the same kind of mental list of everything you know about them, personally.
Chances are, the mental list you made for your least favorite teacher was dwarfed by the one you made for your favorite teacher (unless the list you made for your least favorite teacher had things like, “she was obsessed with wearing ugly outfits” or, “he loved making kids cry” under hobbies and passions—to which I say
No, I’m not going to sit here (or stand here, depending on how you’re imagining this conversation) and tell you that teachers who share their personal lives are the best teachers. It’s not true (Nobody wants to hear the details about your crumbling marriage or your financial problems, Carol, you weird, over-sharing teacher-person! ).
What I am suggesting, however, is that you will be hard-pressed to identify a
My students all know that I’m obsessed with three things: the Patriots (Tom Brady is a Golden God and anyone who leaves a comment on this post purporting otherwise will be banned for life), any kind of hot tea (nothing added, though, I’m a purist…my students have dubbed me their English TEAcher), and my 2-year-old daughter (the literal and figurative Queen of California…just try to stop me from showing you the last five photos I have of her).
These facts have allowed me to connect with so many students, even students I’ve never had the pleasure to teach. It’s also become a go-to move of my students (current and former) to introduce me to someone as, “This is Mr. West. He LOVES [insert either “Tom Brady,” “tea,” or “showing you photos of his daughter, so don’t even ask him or you won’t make it to your next class on time.”]” Ironically, this introduction could easily double as the engraving on my tombstone.
To illustrate how your quirks can forge powerful connections with students, I present to you this story (so gather round the warm glow of your devices children, as I weave my tale):
The other day, during my conference period, I was heading across campus to check my mailbox in the office. On my way, I ran into a former student (from two years ago), who was headed to the office as well (for reasons that will probably show up on his behavioral records later this week). This student struggled mightily with his grades, behavior, and attendance while he was my student, so we hadn’t developed a close relationship by any stretch of the imagination. But it was nice to see him again, just the same (it was especially crazy to see how tall he had gotten—it’s amazing how teenagers can go from five feet tall to 6’2” in about 27 minutes). We chatted along our way towards our mutual destination and I asked him the typical teacher questions: how his English class was treating him (“fine”), if he was doing his best and getting his work done (“sorta”), if he was making better behavioral choices this year (“well, I’m getting called to the office, so…”). Then my former student, clearly wanting to change the subject, shifted the focus to me. “You still drinking that tea?”
“Of course,” I laughed.
He smiled nostalgically, “Man, you always drank tea.”
As we were about to head our separate ways, I decided to test his memory further and casually asked, “Hey…how you like our 11-3 record?”
He grinned and waved me off, “Maaannnn! The Patriots are a buncha cheaters!”
He remembered that, too.
We laughed and parted ways and then (I assume) the principal suspended him for spreading such vicious lies about Golden Boy Tom Brady.
Students might not remember every fact you teach them, but they will remember your humanity (or lack thereof). There are other teachers on my campus who wave their quirk-flags high and proud in their classroom, too. Students can tell (as soon as they enter the classroom) which teacher loves (with a capital L) Taylor Swift, travelling, or the Anaheim Angels (or maybe even travelling with Taylor Swift to see the Anaheim Angels!). Are these teachers also excellent purveyors of pedagogy? Of course they are (I wouldn’t mention them here if they weren’t). But these teachers still make great efforts to connect with their students because they know you can’t be a great teacher if you share nothing about yourself. That’s just not how teaching works—high quality teaching is equally dependent on pedagogy and student connections.
So, if you have a quirk, a passion for something uniquely you (like comic books, fitness, or raising chickens even), lean into it. It’s fun to be passionate about something and even more fun to share that passion with others! If you can go from being just a teacher to something like a TEAcher, I guarantee you will never make a student’s mental “least-favorite teacher” list (though, they’ll still judge your outfits…bratty teenagers).