Behind the teacher persona

It was hard to see behind the persona of ‘teacher’ when I was at school.

OK, so they probably didn’t appreciate being sniggered at when they bent over a student’s desk (poor Mr Horse Bum) or having a chorus of parody coughs every time they cleared their throat to get our attention (sorry Miss Phlegm).

I’ve carried a belief since leaving school that all teachers must have a calling, an innate need to make a difference and influence young lives. Why else would they put up with a bunch of unruly and at my school, sometimes downright insubordinate kids? Sorry Mr Shouty science teacher, who warned me not to cool down a thermometer by dangling it out the window.

But at the time, I didn’t think about why my teachers were teachers. Awkward confession time: It’s because I didn’t really think of them as ‘people’.

I didn’t think about the studying or qualifications that they had done to become a teacher. I didn’t think about the hours of work they put in outside of the 50 minutes they stood at the front of my class. I didn’t think about them having a life outside of school; a family, interests, hopes and dreams. Favourite food. Musical taste. Dogs or cats.

You could put this down to me being a self-absorbed teenager… But, unsurprisingly, I look at it another way. My teachers didn’t show me their human side.

There were exceptions, and those exceptions were teachers that I learned the most from. They gave their opinions, engaged in debates and brought their humour and personality to the classroom. I’ll never forget my French teacher mentioning to me as we were filing into the ‘hut’ – one of the temporary units still going strong today – that she was feeling out of sorts because her bra didn’t match her pants. We shared a genuine laugh, I enjoyed her lessons, and I did well in French. Coincidence?

I’m not suggesting that a declaration of mismatching underwear is the secret to academic attainment. (Image of Mr Horse Bum uncomfortably flashes across my mind.)

At Ivy House we talk about ‘human leadership’ a lot in the corporate world. Leading with empathy, compassion and genuine care for the people you work with is far more effective than giving orders and expecting people to believe in you.

It’s no different in the classroom. But how to be a human leader, and learning leadership and life skills in general, isn’t part of teacher training. Some people are naturally engaging, their personality shines through. In most cases, leadership isn’t a skill that is just learned over time from experience. How to build resilience, how to speak with authority and influence others, how to understand your values and how they affect your life both at home and at work – this is learning that everyone should have access to, because it can make such a huge difference.

To my teachers who showed up as themselves, who brought us on an educational ride and talked to us like we were people they wanted to spend time with – thank you.

To my teachers who put up with me when they were just trying to impart knowledge in the way they knew how – I’m sorry I didn’t see you as more than just Mr Nickname.

Life Leader is a programme that allows teachers to reflect on what’s important to them, what kind of life they want to live and gives them the tools to make it happen.

By Bryony Don, Ivy House
3rd August 2020

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