New York City educator Mildly Melancholy was mildly floored when, in a teaching class, she was asked to decribe herself "as a person and a professional."

Here's what I ended up writing: --out of classroom: easy-going; laugh a lot; music on always; books close by; sometimes lazy
--in the classroom: stern, high expectations; dry and sarcastic jokes; piles of papers and books; music on or nearby; loud
Like any good narcissist, I found this very interesting. It was not a revelation that my personality is different depending on my surroundings, but to lay it out in simple terms was fascinating... What this means to me is that I can be very stern and loud and strict. It's totally NOT who I am. It still makes me laugh sometimes, that I can be that way. No one that I know in my "real life" or pre-teaching life would recognize me in the classroom. I think it's kind of cool. Certainly it reminds me that a huge part of teaching is indeed acting. Once I figured out how to act the part, then the students accept me in that role, and we can all proceed.


Perhaps I’m in the minority, but the lack of professionalism contained in many of the blog links concerns me. Can we ultimately consider this “Teacher Magazine's look at what's new and noteworthy in educator blogs”? The pessimist in me is coming out because teachers are taking it on the chin in the media…but it is THEIR fault. They’ve been caught having inappropriate relationships with our students, in possession of illegal drugs and my now personal favorite…the PE teacher that charged his students a $1 a day to cut his class. But when you take time to read some of their ‘educational’ blog posts, it is no wonder they are doing these things. Frankly that concerns me…what kind of example are we setting for our students?

In the class the other week, after we made that stupid collage, we were to pick up a worksheet and fill it out. It was entitled "Thoughts and Feelings About Teaching."

"Number 1: Describe who you are as a person and as a professional."

I physically recoiled at the magnitude of the question being in that kind of context situation. Who am I? On a silly worksheet in a class about writing a teaching thesis? In less than two inches of handwriting? When entire volumes of printed word have been produced as an answer to this existential question?


Rolling my eyes, I did my best to focus and actually do the assignment, since bitching and moaning (aha! something to put on this sheet!) wouldn't help me complete it.

Here's what I ended up writing:
--out of classroom:
easy-going; laugh a lot; music on always; books close by; sometimes lazy

--in the classroom:
stern, high expectations; dry and sarcastic jokes; piles of papers and books; music on or nearby; loud

Like any good narcissist, I found this very interesting. It was not a revelation that my personality is different depending on my surroundings, but to lay it out in simple terms was fascinating.

I finally remembered to bring this up because this morning, instead of tutoring, due to the lack of students who showed up, several teachers and I helped hand out report cards.

In doing so, I adopted what I suppose I can call my "retail personality," in which I am very smily, very sweet, and very accommodating in helping people find their way. If a parent were to see me in my classroom after that, I imagine they would not take me seriously.

It wasn't too big a deal; I saw a couple of my students, and I smiled at them. That almost never happens during class, and only rarely during other times of the day (like passing or lunch or whatever).

It's just so weird. I totally have multiple personalities. I have successfully, as advised last year, "found my inner bitch."

What this means to me is that I can be very stern and loud and strict. It's totally NOT who I am. It still makes me laugh sometimes, that I can be that way. No one that I know in my "real life" or pre-teaching life would recognize me in the classroom. I think it's kind of cool. Certainly it reminds me that a huge part of teaching is indeed acting. Once I figured out how to act the part, then the students accept me in that role, and we can all proceed.

Occasionally, very occasionally, I laugh in class. It feels strange and inappropriate, since it happens so rarely. Sometimes a thought flits through my head: "What is this? Laughing? Smiling around students? Huh?"


My consolation is that the important things do continue, wherever I am. I love books, and that comes through in both teaching and civilian life. I am a music junkie, and my students will attest to that. [Even if they do think that Norah Jones is "country." (Gah! These kids have no taste!)] I play Enya, or Norah, or classical, even David Gray, while they are entering the room, and/or while they are reading. I haven't gotten complaints, and it makes me feel like the room is that much cozier. Who knows, though.

This all brings me to a related thought: Am I a good teacher? What have I actually taught my students? Do I keep too much control of the room, so that they don't have the freedom to learn and explore? Am I doing anything useful at all?

I breathed easy knowing I'm not a bad teacher, but am I just mediocre? One of my friends at school is an outstanding educator, and I've never even seen her teach. She's always doing interesting projects, and she has been able to control her classes since day one, and she does extra stuff with them too, like book clubs and one-on-one tutoring. She's really down to earth and just a fantastic teacher.

I hate to say it, but I get jealous of the people that I admire. How juvenile is that? I hear them talk about what they do, and it feels like I can't even compare myself to them, and I feel bad, and then turn it into jealousy, even if I don't show it or act it. I just feel inadequate.

There are lots of ways that I try to justify what I do or don't do. We had to teach out of a test book. We don't have that much time.

I do try, especially now that the test is over. I showed them how to write resumes, and I tried to help them take notes from research into graphic organizers, both to promote comprehension and sequence, but also to prevent that gosh-durned plagiarism. I allowed them to choose their own favorite author to complete this project. This week I decided to focus on words, so I gave them time to study vocabulary in class, and after reviewing parts of speech, they got to create their own MadLibs from their l!t c!rcle books. They seemed very excited about that.

But I feel like we don't do anything, you know? There are so many requirements and distractions and so little time and my brain isn't always fully in it. And I talk an awful lot, because again I'm a self-important narcissist and I always like to be in control. But I'm working on it. Back to the point: it feels to me like there's not much for the kids to really make connections with, take ownership of and develop a love of the subject. Though it's not much of a subject when we teach it this way (which can't be helped due to the city's administrative demands). It's like all of us, teacher and students alike, are just walking through the paces.


I want to, and do, take pride in doing my job well. And I know that I am not a bad teacher. But would I ever be considered for an outstanding teaching award? Don't think so. That makes me sad. And selfish.
i appreciate your honesty. i found it refreshing and interesting. it’s weird to discover you have a different person living inside you, huh? i found that out when i was drafted (vietnam). i couldn’t really believe the person i was in the army, and i found the discovery both fascinating and disturbing. i am not surprised that you found your inner bitch empowering and that its use was successful. i’m also sure that you received a truckload of advice from older teachers encouraging you to “start out tough” and informing you that the kids would “test you to see what they can get away with.” i’d like you to reconsider your “professional” self and give more weight and value to your personal side. i’m a retired teacher (35 years) and i know i’m giving the usual advice.

since you aren’t getting a whole lot of encouragement to do that from your colleagues, i want to offer you a decidedly different approach and rationale. first, it must be obvious that your kids would much prefer spending their time with you, not the alternative self you are becoming in the classroom. i’m not saying that it doesn’t work—well, i really don’t think it works all that well in any long term way, but i do think that your personal self would be just as successful and you’d be happier. the tough approach requires an incredible amount of energy and once embraced must be continually and relentlessly applied.

if you already tried the to be the nice person and found it completely useless, i’d ask you to reconsider what really happened. i know my first three or four years were much less successful than my later years. but that was my inexperience, not my personality. i was nice the entire time. you have found your inner strength to be very successful, but you might have become successful in about the same amount of time it took you to invent (or encourage) your shadow self. have boyfriends/husbands also seen this other one? i’m only asking because i think you should consider why you are using power just because you have discovered that you have it. it doesn’t seem appropriate to use it in personal relationships, and so it seems maybe you shouldn’t use it in the classroom, either (which i consider a personal relationship). the irony here is that you don’t sound all that happy with your success and perhaps you’re wondering if there isn’t some other way to do things.

I was an english teacher and i spent all of it 6 miles from the mexican border teaching tough kids. you can imagine the advice i got. the fact is that you may never be able to grow into the teacher you want to be or the kind that you admire if you continue to split yourself. i just don't see anything wrong with your personal side and i don’t see anything to recommend the professional side as you describe it. i was very popular and very successful. i was nice, enforced next to nothing by way of school rules or dress codes (what crap). i taught every ability level from AP classes to the lowest. i can also see that you listened to so much bad advice, i’ll probably sound crazy to you. but you aren’t especially happy being professional, so maybe you should consider—what’s the current jargon—a systemic change. here are some suggestions:

1. if you have to radically change yourself in order to teach your lessons, maybe there’s something radically wrong with your lessons. it’s probably not you. there are important things kids need to learn and you know what those things are. they gave me a ninth grade english class—romeo and juliet and other really relevant writings for my low-income students. okay, they liked romeo and juliet. i showed the movie, the new one (which i hated, but i understood why they liked it). i used an lcd projector to get a big picture and used my cheap surround sound system for a big sound. dvd’s usually have english subtitles (shakespeare is pretty close to a foreign language) so they read the play as well as watched it. i saw all the state standards were designed around drama (because of romeo) and i reasoned that movies were screen plays, so we watched movies (all with english subtitles) all year and i built all my writing and testing lessons around the movies. it was very popular. i enjoyed designing the course and the kids liked it, too.

take a look at your course within the context of the students’ entire day. does your course continue the deadening boredom of their day or enliven it? are you bored with your own lessons? are they lessons only your inner bitch can teach?

2. i don’t know if you’re comfortable with opening up personally with the kids. the best teacher i know (one of my former students) is very reluctant to share anything personal unless it is tied directly to the lesson at hand. i’m the opposite. i tell kids everything and let them ask me anything. i tell stories, lots of them, and let them tell stories, too. i do not avoid any controversy because those seem most interesting to kids. i like for kids to see me laugh in the classroom so i laugh a lot. i laugh at them and with them and let them laugh at me. when my second wife left me while she was in law school, my students learned that i had just bought her a new car. “she ain’t never coming back now, man,” gene law said, “she got that car and she’s prolly still heading as far north as she can. i hope she don’t have any of your credit cards (she did).” everyone laughed, me included. but gene was wrong. she came back to say good-bye. and we all still friends.

3. recognize the areas of conflict in your classroom and reorder priorities. your first priority is to enjoy teaching and enjoy your students. how you gonna do that enforcing dress codes and restricting use of the hall pass or regarding homework as a moral issue? kids could eat and drink in my room. i know. it was a bit messy, but rarely got much out of hand. when it did, everyone knew the line had been crossed and that they would have to clean it all up. we made reasonable rules. i teach in san diego (i was born here) and i just don't get dress codes. who cares? jesus. really. a couple inches of bare midriff, spaghetti straps on blouses, etc. etc. i began to notice that 90% of enforcement was against girls. there were rules against guys with sagging pants etc. but they were never enforced. only bare bellies and cleavage seemed to matter. it was a non-issue for me. i was just grateful they were there in class. ok, there were some tardy problems. i didn’t care. we had done some studies and, surprisingly, we found that 90% of student excuses for tardies were legit. ok, i’m not worrying about the other 10%. my movies tended to get kids to class on time, but it’s no big deal to plan some breathing space at the beginning of class to allow kids to get there. i gave back papers or discussed homework or introduced the movies for a couple minutes before starting the main portion of the day’s lesson. you can go crazy if you listen to some of these on task theorists. you know, we aren’t planning d-day here—the invasion of europe (or wherever) can wait while we learn about language and how we shape it and it shapes us.

i took things further than most teachers. i actively opposed all such regulations and discipline measures at faculty meetings.

4. i notice that some of the comments to your blog say that you won’t be taken seriously if you are too nice to them. i disagree completely (what a surprise, huh?)—if you are serious, the kids will know it. i was serious about injustice, serious about unnecessary wars and very serious about my lessons. kids used to complain that their heads hurt after my class because we got so serious about questioning things. isn’t it sad that most teachers think being serious is restricted to enforcing discipline? the size and position of bra straps was just about the least important thing in my school day. dress codes that took an interest in such things seemed stone age stupid and ridiculous. i took a serious interest in my students and took their part in voicing objections to school rules that were unfair and stupid. i destroyed the uniform dress code by passing out copies of state law that allowed parents to sign a waiver exempting their kid from wearing the school uniform. by the end of the first semester almost no one was wearing the uniform and no one was enforcing it. the next year, the uniforms were gone. i was serious and kids knew it. i just wasn’t serious about things that did not deserve to be taken seriously. of course, many teachers thought i was undermining western civilization (as they knew it) and their attempts at discipline. these teachers always wanted absolute consensus and always wanted me to reinforce an endless parade of regulations. now, they were never willing to return the favor and endorse my agenda for reform—credit/no credit grading systems, elimination of dress codes, student report cards on teachers, or any number of other modest proposals.

you can be relaxed, fun and easy going and still be very serious about things that are really serious.

5. you can certainly reduce stress and your workload if you can relax about grading. for so many teachers, grades are part of the enforcement package, so you’ll have to find your own way here. i didn't have an enforcement agenda so it was easy for me to relax about grades. it really saved me a lot of work. i knew no school board would ever endorse my recommendation for a credit/no credit grading system, so i created a virtual credit/no credit system within the standard a-f grades. i didn’t accept the rationale that grades were effective as enforcement engines in the first place. i taught high school so my grades were always being used for purposes i never approved—athletic eligibility, college admission, and the like. but i had a limited number of kids who even considered going to top-ranked schools so my grades had little or no effect in that regard. that made it easier to keep my grades in-house and removed nearly all ethical concerns about playing favorites by inflating grades. since my students usually suffered from discrimination across the board—from standardized tests to lowered teacher expectations—i didn’t worry much about the effects of my small part in all of this.

here’s what i did (usually):
in my AP courses i gave only a’s and b’s where the a’s reflected the student’s willingness to complete the work assigned. it was an effort grade, really. in each class i really only wanted to give two grades. in regular classes there were very few legit a’s, but i kept my eye out in a kind of talent search mentality. i did not require homework (unless they wanted an a in the course). i got 4 or 5 kids per class who started the homework, but once they found out that i liked kids just as well whether they did the homework or not, only the truly committed did the work. so, most a’s were eliminated by default, which left only b’s and c’s—b’s for kids who did almost all assigned in-class work and c’s for those who did a fair or reasonable amount. now, in a “curve” sense you could say that i extended the bottom of the curve rather generously. ok, so what? giving a kid a c wasn’t really giving him anything. it kept marginal kids eligible for athletics and i never saw kidding bragging that they got c’s in english...i reduced my grading considerations to a single decision in 90% of the cases—between an “a” and a “b” in AP courses and between a “b” and a “c” in regular classes. the exceptions at either end of the scale were obvious and self-evident so they required no additional documentation on my part. i kept no documentation to support my grades. that alone saved me an incredible amount of work. our district required english teachers to keep student portfolios of their work. fine. i had the kids keep their work and fill out a checklist of what they had done for the semester. it took about ten minutes per class to scan the checklists and decide between my two grades. it was usually an easy call. and since i was so nice to them on a regular basis, it never occurred to them that i would be unfair about grades. i got very few complaints (usually i got none).

i hope none of this sounds self-congratulatory. it’s simply what i found worked for me. i know from my 35 years of teaching that there were very few teachers who shared my basic assumptions about schools and students, so you shouldn’t feel concerned in any way that you disagree with my suggestions. i was a union rep for about 15 years and tried to make things better for teachers, but nothing i ever did made life easier for them or helped them relax or helped ease the stress. my sole argument for my approach is that it was very effective for me and i was one of the least stressed teachers i knew. others told me the same thing. in many cases, it was by way of a criticism. if i had been a really dedicated teacher, i would had a lot more stress. oh well. i didn’t buy most of that. in the asme line, i didn't like that one comment i saw posted in teachermagazine about your blog that implied that your attitude was less than professional. i sure had that word thrown in my face enough times. i wouldn't take it to heart. anyone who uses the word “professional” uses it only negatively—as in “you are not being professional.” notice that it is rarely used in a positive sense. i thought your blog was honest and open ( i think i said that already).

i don't think you’ll hear too much encouragement to let your nice side out, although i was encouraged by the comments on your own site. my best friend was one of the worst teachers i ever saw—mean, unreasonable, arbitrary and unforgiving. outside the classroom, he was outgoing, backslapping, funny, open and intensely loyal to friends. i would watch how former students reacted when he would see them in the hallways. he would hug them, laugh and joke with them—and their eyes were wide open in amazement. he was just very different inside the classroom. i wasn’t.

i had a kid blurt out an accusation one day in class: “you’re only being nice because you want us to like you.” hmmm. i didn’t quite agree. i thought i was being nice because i was nice, but i simply said: “well, yeah. what did you expect—that i wanted you to hate me?” in an essay about christmas an author (harry reasoner, i think) was arguing that god sent us the christ child because he wanted to be loved as well as feared. personally, i didn’t see why an all-powerful god needed to be loved or feared, but i asked them if they thought i should raise my two girls (then 11 and 9) to fear me as well as love me. sadly, most of them thought i should instill fear in equal amounts with love. well, you know, i disagree. i don't think my students should be treated differently from the way i want my own kids treated in school.

hope you found some of my suggestions useful...

Great book to read to support/confirm the split personality element of being a teacher:

Parker Palmer's "The Courage to Teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher's life"

It does a masterful job of detailing and honoring the public vs. private psyches of most teachers.

Beyond that, loved the original post. The 'humanity' of it all makes an ex-teacher smile with fond memory and a sprinkle of lip-biting.

Keep up the great work!

The notion, advanced by "A Concerned Voice" that teachers are responsible for "taking it on the chin in the media" is only valid if you subscribe to broad stereotypes, and judge an entire profession based on a handful of widely-publicized stories. Every profession has its miscreants, and you may as well condemn the entire human race it you think like that.

I teach my students and children to avoid stereotyping people. It's a pity so many adults don't know better.

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