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.