I started teaching when I was twenty-five years old. I taught in a school where teachers made the decision about whether to use their first name or their last name. Some of the teachers I learned from pushed me to go by “Chris,” not “Mr. Lehmann.” But I was young enough to worry about the lack of distance between me and the eighteen year-olds I was teaching that I wanted the daily reminder that I was the teacher in the room.
The “Mr. Lehmann” was and is often shortened to “Lehmann” or even “Lehms” or for some kids “Coach” but that person became who I am – or at least who I aspire to be. And the important thing is that is who the kids need me to be.
If students are willing to see us as the kind of teachers that students believe in, that students want to be around, want to learn from, then don’t we have an obligation to strive to be that person? If the students believe that “Mr. Lehmann” is far smarter, far more patient, far more humble, far more thoughtful than I really am, maybe I can get closer to being that person because of their vision.
So perhaps our teacher-selves should be the best versions of who we are. On some level, our teacher-selves should be the ideal that we strive for every day, even when we know that most days, we will fall far short of that ideal. And that ideal of the teacher-self is the thing that should keep us growing and learning as teachers, because knowing that most days, we fall short of the best version of ourselves is the thing that should keep us profoundly humble. But we should always remember that tomorrow is another day, another chance to be the person that the students need us to be.
There’s no question that, as teachers, knowing who are students are, knowing what they need, is an inquiry project that will keep us learning every day of our teaching lives, but the ancillary benefit is that knowing who we need to be in the classroom will keep us growing every day too.
Kurt Vonnegut once wrote, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” If we pretend to be more thoughtful, more wise, more passionate and more kind than we actually are, and the kids help us to become those things, isn’t that a good thing?
Seventeen years ago, I started pretending to be “Mr. Lehmann.” Every day, I give what I have that day to live up to his ever-changing ideal.
A great reminder about the importance of teachers’ aspirations to be their best selves as an inspiration for career-long professional learning. By coincidence, my post today is about what school leaders can do to support others in becoming their best selves.
I had an interesting twitter conversation at Educon about what becoming a parent did for me as a teacher. Now my bar for myself is even higher. I want to be the teacher that I want for my daughters.
Thank you for this post Chris! I think we often forget the effect that teaching & students as on us! I entered the teaching profession through an alternate route. I never thought I’d work in education until I got a phone call asking me to apply for a HS French position. That phone call and the decision to apply & take the job is truly a defining moment in my life. I have changed as a person in unimaginable ways during the last 3.5 years – the biggest being that I’m actually flexible and have learned how to go with the flow. Teaching has allowed me to get to know my students and grow both personally & professionally on a daily basis.
Spot on. You articulate this point so well. Working with children every day definitely results in me striving to be the best person that I can be on every level in order to meet my students’ needs as best as I can. Make sense?! This post certainly does – thank you for sharing 🙂
I love this.