Who Are You?
The question: ‘Who are you?’ is one that probably doesn’t cross your mind all that often, unless of course you are currently in the depths of an existential mid-life crisis.
For teachers however, particularly new teachers, this is actually a question that seems pretty valid, and probably isn’t asked enough. But in today’s world you can’t just ask the question ‘Who are you?’ (At least you can’t if you want to get something that resembles an accurate response.) Instead we must ask ‘Who are you, in this really quite specific situation?’ Obviously this variation of the question doesn’t quite roll off the tongue as easily as it’s succinct and pithy counterpart, but it is immeasurably more accurate. We, the modern human being, do not have just one identity, or one personality. We have many.
Not to accuse you of being two faced, you’re not, and it would be far more correct to accuse you of being five faced, maybe six, maybe even more. We conduct ourselves in an entirely different way when in the company of our boss, as we do with our parents, or children, of friends, or on the bus, or on a date, etc.
Now let me tell you something I probably shouldn’t: I have known ‘teachers’ to swear. I have been in the company of ‘teachers’ who have made quite risky jokes, who have laughed at the misfortune of others. This bit may be hard to believe, but I have even witnessed ‘teachers’ brazenly parade around in public, with their top button undone and shirt not tucked in.
Except, at the time; they were not teachers. Hence the sarcastic apostrophes. At the time, they were not teaching a class, they weren’t even inside a school building. They were a million miles away from the teacher persona they put on at school.
Now this isn’t being fake, or lying, or falsehood. They are simply displaying a facet of themselves that they reserve for the classroom. After all; the sarcastic, joke-cracking, shirt-untucked, occasionally swearing, persona you might find in a bar on a Friday evening, has no place in a school.
For new teachers, creating their teacher persona isn’t easy. You probably won’t get it right straight away. You might even spend your entire NQT year getting it wrong, and the following three years making slight adaptations to it as you progress and grow as a teacher. But it is important that you consider it, that you are always conscious of who you are when you are in school.
Whilst I can’t tell you who you are, or instruct you on what your teacher persona should be, I can give you an idea of who you are not. Firstly you are not the outside-of-school persona we have already discussed. That person leaves you at the school gate, and whilst he or she may be patiently waiting for you to finish at the end of the day, during your time in school you should have no contact, not a wave from the window, not even a lunch-time text. You don’t want your students to see you as you, you want them to see you as what you should be- in charge.
At the risk of coming over hypocritical. You still need to be yourself. Just not completely yourself. Be you, but not all of you. As much as that might upset John Legend. If YOU can’t muster up a little gravitas and dexterity, then maybe you have chosen the wrong career? The classroom needs a leader, and before you nervously look over your shoulder looking for someone else to step up to the plate; as a teacher, that leader needs to be you.
If I could sumarise everything you need to be in just one word (which I can) it would be: adult.
You have to be the adult in the classroom. It doesn’t matter that just a few months ago you we’re taking advantage of two for one at Vodka Rev’s every weekend, or that actually you’re a mere four years older than some of your A-level students, you are the adult. If this isn’t something you are prepared for; then again, teaching maybe (definitely) isn’t the career for you. Not yet anyway.
I grew up with a head-teacher as a parent. As a child, other kids used to find it hard to comprehend that teachers existed outside of school, that they have their own lives and interests in the real world. And the truth is they don’t. Not only because of the heinous time commitments associated with the job, but because actually; teachers do, and should, leave themselves at school. Once they are outside of the building, they become a new person. They revert to being themselves.
Teachers, as many primary school children already believe, do not exist outside of school.
Right into my teenage years friends would comment that they just couldn’t see my dad as a head-teacher, they couldn’t possibly imagine him telling someone off, or raising his voice. I didn’t quite realise at the time, but I know now, that that is because my dad isn’t a head-teacher. He wasn’t then and he isn’t now. He both was and is my dad. But when he steps over the threshold of his school, he becomes someone else entirely; he becomes a head-teacher. He becomes someone you may well have had the pleasure of meeting, but someone whose acquaintance I am yet to make.