Taming your ego while teaching

Thursday, January 1st, 2015

A Teach For Australia Associate at work

Coming to teaching through Teach For Australia, I am keenly aware that while the mission to transform educational disadvantage relies on many factors, relationships between teachers and students are a key driver to change.

As Associates, we are reminded that we are “outstanding individuals (being transformed) into exceptional teachers and inspirational leaders”. Those are some pretty powerful adjectives! This further compounds the fact that teaching has the potential to be a hugely egoic profession.

Few other professions require you to be “on” for so many hours the day, without having some sort of printed program and a dressing room attached. Few other professions require you to work so constantly and consistently on building relationships.

Being humble and removing egoism from the classroom is an interesting dichotomy to navigate. In training, we workshopped teaching and received feedback on style and areas in which we could improve. I will admit that while I was nervous about my first week of classes, I went into term one a little heady from the feedback and praise – that I was a “natural in the classroom” and that my students would “love” me.

Maybe some do. Maybe some do not. But, that is not the point…

My school is very small, many students are related. I teach a year seven boy and a year eleven girl, who are cousins, but, I had not made the connection. One morning, about week five, the year seven boy stated bluntly, “You teach my cousin. She says you’re her favourite teacher.” Once I figured out who he meant, I replied genuinely, “I do. She’s a great student, she works really hard.” English is not her strongest subject – but, I was flattered. I was heady. And my ego was stroked.

As the exchange played over in my mind I came to realise that although it is a great compliment to be told you are someone’s favourite teacher, it actually should not be about me. It should be her favourite class. It is her, as it is all students’, learning and experiences that is of importance. It is howshe is going to take the purpose and meaning she gains from my class and assimilates that into her world.

It is so easy, when building positive relationships, to fall into the egoic trap of simply encouraging relationships that promote friendliness and admiration – to work to uphold that status quo, to be liked.

Recently, an Associate shared a story of people at a conference. Each participant had to find the balloon with their own name on it. Chaos ensued for minutes. The activity was called to an end before it was complete. When directed to pick any balloon and give it to the person whose name was on it, the activity was swiftly completed. The analogy was that the balloons were like happiness – when we spend energy trying to find it for ourselves, it is elusive. If we concentrate on giving it away, it is super powerful – and, in turn, fills us with happiness.

Last week, I was checking in with that same year eleven girl, asking how she was finding our study of persuasive language. “It’s great,” she replied, “I can use it in my Business Management class and it’s really interesting learn about.”

That is the kind of praise I want to hear from now on – not one word about me.

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