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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Re-Creating Teaching Spaces

Stephen Hurley

Grade Eight Teacher, Group Moderator, Facilitator/teacher arts@newman

I discovered something rather important this week: I'm in the wrong job! That's right -- for the past 25 years, I have lived under the false assumption that being a teacher was the ideal career for me.

Until recently, that is, when, along with my eighth-grade students, I participated in the annual career-interest survey provided by the local secondary school guidance department. You may have completed one or two of these surveys yourself over the years. You answer yes or no to a wide variety of questions and make note of those to which you responded positively. And then -- voilè! -- you are presented with a personality profile, a description of six personality types, and a list of career possibilities you may wish to consider.

The Teacher Type

Well, I wasn't surprised with the results. In inventories of this type, I generally score highest in the artistic/creative personality type, with equal standing in the thinking/research domain. My lowest scores tend to come in the domain that requires a great deal of order and organization, attention to detail, and a passion for following rules.

In this particular inventory, I ended up scoring a revealing one out of ten in the organizer/conventional personality type. No big surprise. Where the big shock came, however, was when I began exploring the list of careers that might be attractive to those who have strength in this area. There, nestled in among professions like bank teller, computer operator, accountant, and time-study analyst was -- you guessed it -- teacher!

I sat in my comfortable director's chair at the front of the classroom with a look of obvious dismay on my face. Glancing up at the class, I said, "I hate to tell you this, folks, but I'm in the wrong job!" I half-considered walking out of the room to emphasize my point (but the message from a recent workshop on liability and student supervision was still ringing in my ears.)

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not about to leave the profession. In fact, I am still as committed to the work as I was when I walked into my first classroom in 1984. But after this week's experience, I've been doing a great deal of thinking about how teaching -- especially at the elementary school level -- is really designed for a particular type of personality. I looked around at my current colleagues and noticed that those who really do well in this profession are the ones who are good at attending to the fine details, are task oriented, and enjoy the parameters that life in the classroom can offer. It's not that the rest of us aren't good teachers; it's just that it is often a bit more of a struggle to fit into the role.

Outside the Box

For the past three years, I have been working on the implementation of arts@newman -- an alternative, arts-based program for grades 7-8 designed to better engage some of those students who find themselves hanging out at the edges of this place we call school. (Read my first post about the arts@newman program.) By using the languages of visual arts, music, drama, and dance, I have been hoping to draw the circle a little wider to include those students who are attracted to a different style of learning.

But here's the new insight that took up residence in my mind this week. While designing a program that might involve students with a more artistic and intuitive approach to the world, I realized that I have also been working -- perhaps subconsciously -- to create a different type of workspace for myself as teacher.

Much has been written over the last decade about multiple intelligences, learning styles, student-centered learning, and individualized instructional paths. (Read this Edutopia.org article about multiple intelligences.) There is no doubt that these are helping us redefine educational spaces for our students. But what about the adults who come to work in these spaces every day? What about those among us who, despite their love of and passion for what they do, struggle to fit into the traditional school? Is there hope that we will ever be free from looking over our shoulder to see if our masquerade has been detected?

I feel better now. I've come clean. But, am I alone? What's your story?

Stephen Hurley

Grade Eight Teacher, Group Moderator, Facilitator/teacher arts@newman
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Melanie Yoder's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I also took a similar test. It said I should be a farmer. The funny thing is that I am definitely not a farmer. I teach Title 1 Reading for kindergarten through 3rd grade. That's a far cry from a farmer. I know for sure that I am in the right profession.

Stephen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Melanie,

Thanks for your response. I had to smile when I read about your "intended" farming career! I've always thought that teaching was a little like farming in many ways (including the need for a little fertilizer along the way!)

I alleviated the "messy desk" problem by removing the teacher's desk. That forces me to organize myself in a different way. Often, the first thing that visitors to my classroom ask is, "Where is your desk?"

Certainly, with technological advances, I can keep track of things in a different way. Spreadsheets, databases, software that helps me plan in a more divergent way are all things that have allowed me to "fit" into this profession as a productive individual.

I think that, over the course of their schooling career, our students are exposed to rich variety of teaching personalities. That gives them the opportunity to reflect on their own personality dimensions and learn that there are many ways to be considered "successful."

I am totally with you on the relational aspect of teaching. I know that, despite the added pressures connected with accountability and "student success" that this is the common thread for most of the teachers that I know!

Stephen Hurley

Stephen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Bev,

I enjoyed reading your comments. I found it intriguing that, as a math teacher, you would have scored low in the same dimensions that I did. I assumed that math teachers excelled in the details and order of the universe.

A question: do you find that you teach math differently than most of the math teachers that you had in your schooling career?

stephen

Cynthia's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am currently studying at Miami Dade College to become an Elementary school teacher and the very first line of this blog really caught my eye. As I was growing up I constantly changed my mind on what I wanted to pursue as a career. As I reached the final years of high school I finally realized teaching would make me happy. But knowing myself, I can't help but wonder if I will find another reason to change my mind. I have also taken one of those career surveys and never took into account its results. But this blog made me question if there really is a teacher type? And if there is do I fit the role? Clearly, if you have had a successful career for 25 years then this survey holds little validity. Possibly, there is no one "type" of teacher and different people can make the most of this occupation regardless of their organizational skills. I truly hope this career is my calling in spite of any surveys!

Solly Lander's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have always being well organized and detail oriented personality, but if I would take that test, I surely will show up as a very creative person, not very good in following rules or acting in a conventional way. I always take an intuitive and creative approach to the world and the life. I taught at different levels of education for about 25 years. At the same time I was rearing four children as a single mother. I loved to help them and apply many of the things I had learnt for obtaining my Master and other postgraduated courses in Early Childhood Education at UCLA and in Venezuela. I created and published books and educational learning resources (in Spanish)for children in my country. But when I was supposed to sell them I was really upset,it was a real problem...I didn't know nothing about selling or bussiness and I either was not interested in learning that...I liked my profession as a techer!!!...But anyway the situation forced me to have my own editorial enterprise...after two or three years working in that I found that I was really successful in administering and obtaining good profits out of my hobby..So,when the time was right, I decided to retire from being a teacher and became only an "bussiness woman"...But inside myself something was happening that didn't alloud me to feel totally well. Three years ago, I decided to be a teacher again. I am move to USA, started taking some courses at the college level to see how other college teachers were doing the job I used todo in my country. I am trying to re-connect what I learnt and experienced, with new knowledge and experiences and I obtaining in MDC College...I don't care very much about personality quizzes or tests more that what my own intuition and personal experience tells me about:-"This is the profession that really makes me you feel happy, useful and realized..." It is true, if i don't have people to help my creativity goes down, I need them to be successful and creative again.

Linda's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

When I was 6 I decided I would never become a teacher, nurse, or secretary, I wanted to become a geologist. Thirty years later, through a interesting series of events, I became a math teacher. After teaching for five years, I took a personality test that listed what careers you would be good and under education it said math teacher! I'm glad I came to this job later in life. I think teaching math is much more engaging and fun these days. I teach 7th and 8th grade.

L. Banks's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a third year Pre-K teacher who also has trouble with organization. I love Pre-K because it allows me to teach the best way that I learn. I learn best when connecting material to my interest and this is how I teach, I teach assigned material by using my student's interest. I tend to feel that I am a rule breaker when I don't note the changes that I make through out the week in my lesson plans. When being observed I am usually asked why I am not following my lessons as they are written or why did I note that I had made a change. I love teachable moments and if we get off track I don't think to run to the office with a sticky note explaining why I may have moved on or lingered on a certain subject. I feel like I would be a horrible teacher if I stayed to the strict words of my lesson plans I go with the flow of my students. If a lesson that I have planned bombs I find a new way to present the material. I have found that many view my teaching style as unorganized and immature. At times this has made me feel like I am in the wrong profession. But when I look at the students of teachers who strictly follow their lesson plans I see that their students are bored of being left behind. I think that sometimes administrators put too much focus on what is on paper than what is taking place in the classroom. I sometimes feel that my lack of organization is a gift when it comes to my teaching. I would rather be a better teacher who at times strays from her lesson plans to reach each student that a teacher who just looks good on paper.

Dawn Cleave's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thank you for this article! I have always known that organization was never on my list of strengths- but teaching has always been my calling! I struggle daily, okay even hourly, with my lack of organization but I am always looking for a way to improve and find a technique that works for me. I love clean spaces (with clutter of course) but I am lacking the soft places in my room. So I am on a hunt for more ideas to help create a place comfy for all learners!

Kristina's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

After reading your entry about recreating the workspace for teachers, a light went on above my head. Creating your classroom to fit the multiple intelligence of a teacher seems just as important as adapting lessons for the spectrum of learners. Being an elementary art teacher, I have known for years that I am a visual-spatial learner and I now that I think about it I know I am a better educator when I am given the opportunity to teach in a visually stimulating environment. What a great "aha" moment you experienced!

I also took on of the those career surveys...I am supposed to be a florist.

Kristina
Hutchings Elementary
Howell Michigan

Stephen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Kristina,

Thanks for the reply. I had to smile at the thought of the light above your head!

There would be some that would read your reply and say, "Well, don't we try to make our classrooms visually stimulating anyways?" I'm wondering, however, whether there are some visual elements that you would include to satisfy your need for the visual as a teacher, that might not be there if you were gearing your decisions just to your students.

For example, I now have pictures of my family in my classroom. I have a lamp that I picked up at a local furnishings store. Are there specific things that you're thinking of adding to the visual landscape of your classroom.

By the way, did you see the article on Feng Shui in the classroom? Its on the Edutopia site: http://www.edutopia.org/classroom-space-design-feng-shui

Stephen

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