The Personality of a Teacher

For the foods unit in intro to ag, I bought eight gallons of milk: two gallons of skim, two of 1%, two of 2% and two of whole milk. The students were to taste each type from four jugs with labels and then record the look, taste and how it felt in their mouths. Then, they were to identify the type of milk from four mystery jugs. These jugs only had numbers and no labels.

As soon as I brought out the mystery jugs, the students began guessing out  loud which one was which based on the color of the caps. They hadn’t gone on for long before one of the students said, “Knowing her, she probably switched the caps.”

That was my high school class. In one of my eighth grade classes, when I brought out the mystery jugs, one student furrowed his brows and began pointing and tried to identify the milk by just the caps. The student next to him stopped him and said, “Knowing her, she probably switched the caps.”

I had. 

When I gave directions, all I said to acknowledge that fact was, “Do not rely on the caps.”

I was amused that in two different periods on two different days, two different students had said almost exactly the same thing, starting with, “Knowing her….” It seems I’m gaining some sort of reputation, although I’m still figuring out exactly what that is.

In one of my classes, a student (one I had when I was substituting long term last year) comes in and nearly every day says, “What are we doing today?” Always, I reply, “You’ll see.” I learned while substitute teaching that if I started answering that question, I’d spend at least the first five minutes repeating 20 times what we were doing that day. So I always say, “You’ll see,” unless the student asks, “Are we ___________,” and fills in the blank. Then, I just say, “Maybe,” and I can never resist smiling when they guess correctly. They know that by now, so they try to get things out of me and get excited when they figure out what’s going on.

Perhaps I like maintaining some sort of an air of mystery. Or being unpredictable (or at least feeding some sort of ego by thinking I’m unpredictable). My Purdue ag comm professor knew that he could insult me deeply by saying, “Oh, you’re so predictable.”

But there is something about your students taking an interest in what you are like as a person. Last week, one of the eighth grade classes began a great debate about whether baby animals or baby humans were cuter. A couple of days later, I made a slide show with pictures I had taken of young animals. I also included a picture of me as a young person with wide eyes and a stuffed sheep.

Since it was a Friday, I showed the PowerPoint to all of my classes, and in my first hour (a class including sophomores, juniors and seniors), when we reached the picture of me — before anyone had realized and before I had revealed it was me — one of my students said rather loudly, “Oh my gosh, he looks scary.”

I just stopped, trying not to laugh and trying to figure out how I was going to break the news that he had just called his female teacher “he” when someone sitting nearby laughed and said, “That’s her.” Then everyone laughed as the student said, “Whoops,” and became quiet.

So then I took a vote on which animal the class thought was the cutest, except I didn’t let them vote on the human after that reaction. It sure made a story for my other six classes, and they laughed as heartily as the first one had when it actually happened, wide-eyed that the teacher had been insulted like that.

But I didn’t mind.

Once, when I was passing out Scantron sheets for a quiz, a student complained, “I hate Scantrons.”

Internally, I agreed, because I had hated taking tests on Scantrons as well, but I just replied, “They make things a lot easier for me.”

A second student piped up, “Yeah, she’s giving us a headache so she doesn’t have one.”

I smiled at the ground and shook my head before handing out the quizzes. It had been a long day and I was ready to sit down.

I distributed the papers and was typing on my computer before settling in when someone said, “Teacher.”

I looked up and saw a hand up and many quizzical looks. All at once, I heard, “What’s allelomi–mi–” “This wasn’t on the study guide!”

I had passed out the wrong tests. Intro to Ag had received next hour’s Animal Science quiz. There had been two Intro quizzes on top of the stack, but the rest had been Animal Science.

I thought, Kudos to them trying to say allelomimetic, before hurriedly collecting the papers once they had erased their names from the top. My face turned red. Usually, these types of things don’t bother me, but there was something about this one where I was thinking, Oh no, what have I done now? 

But this was the same class where, on another day before this incident, I had been talking to them while standing in front of the tall science lab bench (I teach at two different schools, and at the second school, I am in a science room, not an agriculture room). I usually lean on the desk, and so while the students were taking notes on something I’d said, I leaned backwards.

The desk wasn’t there.

I was too far to the right, and there was nothing but empty space behind me. I started to fall backwards before catching myself with my foot. Only three students saw it, and they choked, kindly doing their best not to laugh and bring attention to the matter. A couple of them started crying from the effort. I just moved on. I fall so often that those sorts of things have stopped embarrassing me, unless something truly awful happens.

As I’ve talked about in a previous post, I didn’t think I had the right personality to be a teacher. I thought I needed to be graceful and mistake-free and know everything. After all, that’s how my teachers were, I thought.

But perhaps there is no such thing as the right personality to be a teacher. All that’s really needed are a little grit and a little knowledge and enough stubbornness to get through the mistakes and embarrassments.

After all, once that bell rings at the end of the hour, what happened in that class is over, and no one in the next class will know. There is time for a new start. And when a person embraces new start after new start, welcoming the challenge to “forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead,” that is when the personality is right for teaching.

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