Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Roles We Play

Written by Ms. Berman
Rules.  They are a valuable component of any society.  They help us define our roles, keep us safe, and set boundaries.  Roles can be useful when one is in need of a purpose.  But what happens when the roles defined for us don't coincide with the person whom we really are?  Should we "fake" the role in which people expect us to play, to make them feel more comfortable with us, or should we be ourselves (within reason) and allow people to learn that it is okay to be atypical?
This is a question in which I grapple with every year at this time in the semester.  Teachers are told to "never smile before Thanksgiving."  Allowing students to see our more personable side will diminish their respect for us, and potentially erode our class control.  This theory of classroom management has been engrained in me for over twenty years of teaching.  The reality, however, is that my greatest success stories, my "little miracles" as one student has coined them, have never arisen through intimidation, but through encouragement via the teacher-student connection.  Creating an environment in which students feel comfortable taking risks, asking questions, and seeking help is not in alignment with the role of the foreboding teacher.  It is not only unnatural, but it is dishonest, as it is not me, and the students will soon come to realize this.
Open House was difficult tonight, as I could see parental apprehension when I stated that I don't believe in loading on the homework.  The look of concern was clear, as parents want assurance that their children will receive a top notch education.  I am sensitive to their concerns, but teaching my students how to create balance in their lives is a priority for me.  I am continually striving to create meaningful work, and focusing upon quality over quantity.  As long as I see my students thrive in the learning process, I will continue to limit the amount of homework that I assign.  Yet again, I am not playing the role in which I am expected to play, and I know that it makes some people uncomfortable.  If I weren't a teacher with whom students share some of their innermost feelings, I may have a different approach or teaching style.
This school year I have decided to start off the semester playing the role of myself.  My students will see that I have a sense of humor and that I believe in the importance of having fun.  I don't think that I am better than they are, and won't pretend that I am.  I love my career, and the students are the driving force of my enthusiasm.  My classes are based upon mutual respect.  My Science Scholars are the anchor of my success as an educator, and I give them credit for all that they do.  I sometimes make mistakes, and it is okay if my students do, too.  This year I will break the teacher covenant and will be smiling long before Thanksgiving.


  1. And that's one of the reasons you are such a great teacher who leaves lasting impressions on your students. One of my other teacher friends wore granny-sized underwear for her first few years of teaching, because it made her feel more matronly, which was what her superiors gave her to understand was the "right" persona for an English teacher. Fortunately for her and her students, it didn't last long.

  2. It seems to me that giving more homework does not make one a better teacher - it only makes students more tired and frustrated and a lot of times teaches them nothing. If that's the "role" teachers are expected to play, then good for you for breaking out of it. It definitely works for you as a teacher, and saves time and stress for both us and you.