A large part of being a great teacher is character and attitude. It is partly for this reason that I maintain that not everybody can be a teacher, despite popular opinion to the contrary.
While I assert that character and attitude cannot be trained the way methodoly and technique can, there are some aspects of one’s behaviour and personality that can be worked on to improve ourselves as teachers.
One of these is ego. As with in many areas and walks of life, ego can be a major problem for teachers, and even a great teacher can be derailed by an uncontrolled ego. When you take things personally, you risk letting your dark side take over. In this post, I’ll take a look at three examples of how ego can get the best of a teacher and how to avoid them.
Take your students’ moods with a pinch of salt.
Every teacher wants to be the students’ favourite, but students—especially in school—can be fickle. If you have students who display a bad attitude, whether it’s towards you or towards learning in general, don’t take it personally.
The worst thing you can do is make enemies in the classroom. When you allow your students’ behaviour to affect your own mood, it can be very difficult to rescue the student–teacher relationship afterwards.
It’s important to remember that the time you spend with your students is just a fraction of their day, and they have so much going on in their lives that you are not privy to. When a student is acting up, there’s a very strong chance it has nothing at all to do with you.
If a student is behaving out of character, don’t antagonise her, and don’t try too hard to cheer her up either. Keep your focus on delivering a great lesson in the hopes that it will engage any problematic students, but as long as there’s no disruption to the lesson, let them have their space. This is particularly important for your adolescent / young adult students. Show them some respect by letting them take a bit of time when they need it, and they’ll definitely appreciate it. Force them to cheer up and participate, and they’ll likely fight back.
If, on the other hand, you have students who are consistently negative, consider approaching them on neutral ground and finding out if there’s anything in particular that they’re having trouble with. It’s essential that you avoid public confrontation, though. Speak with him quietly while the class is occupied, or else find a time outside of the classroom to convene with him in a non-threatening way. Do this without blame or accusation but also without trying too hard to relate; ask if there’s anything he needs help with or anything he would like to see more of in your lessons. Ultimately, just make it clear that you are there to support his learning.
Take constructive criticism positively.
We all want to be the greatest teachers we can be, but the absolute best teacher is not one who knows everything; it’s one who is still learning. No matter how much experience you have, there is always more to learn as a teacher. I truly believe that the moment you feel like you have nothing more to develop or improve is the moment your teaching career is over.
As you move through your career, you’ll work alongside many teachers from all sorts of different backgrounds. The best way to develop as a teacher is to take every opportunity to learn from other teachers around you. Even teachers with less experience than you—including brand new teachers—will have things to show you or ideas to share.
If another teacher does come to you with suggestions, try to remain open at all times and receive them well. Always try to assume that feedback is coming from a positive place. Good teachers care above all else about their students’ education, so if a teacher tries to share an idea with you or tries to tell you how you could improve your own practice, don’t take it personally. His goals is the same as yours: ensuring the students get the best education possible.
Listen to any feedback you receive, whether it’s from a fellow teacher, a senior or even a student. In the best cases, feedback will come with suggestions, and you can take the new ideas and add them to your repertoire. Of course, not all approaches suit all teachers, so you might receive a suggestion that you know straight away won’t work for you, but before you discard them, look for any elements that you can salvage and incorporate into your own practice.
If you happen to receive purely negative feedback with no practicable suggestions, hold your tongue and react positively. Thank your colleague for the feedback and take the time to think carefully about what they’re saying. Again, assume that the intent behind the feedback is positive and ask yourself if you could be doing a better job for your students. Look for specific ways that you can improve your approach, and if you can’t think of anything, ask your colleagues for advice.
Take failures in your stride and be prepared to adapt.
It is very easy to get in a rhythm with your lesson plan when teaching, and it can feel good to move through your planned activities and get everything finished in class on time. Unfortunately, even the best lesson plans can face problems in implementation. In a live classroom, there are multifarious and complex factors at play that can interfere with a teachers intentions and objectives. Every teacher faces this reality in every classroom. What differentiates a good teacher from a bad teacher is how she reacts.
When something goes wrong in the classroom, there are two very problematic reactions that we should avoid. The first is tunnel vision and the second is passing the buck, and both of these are related to the teacher’s ego. Tunnel vision is the result of too much faith in the lesson plan. No matter how long and how hard you worked on your lesson plan, it is important to remind yourself that no plan is ever perfect, and that a plan plus reality can bring about unforeseeable circumstances.
When we don’t remind ourselves of these facts and fail to keep our egos in check, we walk into the classroom feeling very proud of our perfect lesson plan, and this can lead to complacency. When something isn’t working in your lesson, you need to be aware and responsive, and the best way to ensure that you’re ready to react is to be prepared in the first place. Tunnel vision is when you’re not looking out for error because you’re overly confident. This can mean that you push ahead with a failing activity at the cost of your students’ learning, which is never a good thing.
Passing the buck is what happens when the teacher sees that an activity or lesson is not working as expected, but his automatic reaction is to assume the students are somehow to blame. If you find yourself angry about students’ work ethic, attitude, effort or even intelligence, then it might be time for you to take a step back and be objective about your plan. Is it appropriate for the students? Is everything as clear as it needs to be? Is it focused on your learning objective? Is it interesting for your students and not just for you? The one thing that all of these questions have in common is that they focus on the teacher’s role and not the students’.
If you see your students start to lose focus or interest, consider reassessing your plan before you get frustrated with the students. If needs be, stop an activity that isn’t working and do something different. It’s far better for your students that you accept your failure and change your approach so that they can still learn something than if you try to protect your ego by pretending that your activity is not the problem.
It’s your ego or your students’ learning...
We all have to battle with our egos at times, and we won’t always win, but as a teacher, it’s important to remember that when you let your ego rein, it is your students that suffer. Their learning can be impacted drastically, and setbacks in learning can be much harder to repair than a bruised ego.
Whatever challenges you face, whether they come from your students, your colleagues or just the circumstances of your classroom, try not to take things personally. Always keep your focus on your students’ learning, and make your decisions with that in mind.