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Re-Creating Teaching Spaces

| Stephen Hurley

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?

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Comments (26)

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Melanie Yoder (not verified)

Teaching Environments

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I took a similar career inventory when I was in 8th grade. Based on my responses, it told me I should be a farmer. Well, I was very sure that that was not a possibility for me. While I live in rural Ohio, I would not consider myself a farm girl...I never have. You see, I've always wanted to be a teacher. I am currently in my second year of teaching Title 1 Reading. Prior to my current position, I substitute taught for four years. I saw so many classrooms and so many disorganzied desks. For the most part I really didn't think of the messiness of a teacher's desk. I was confident that that teach knew where things were and was able to find what he or she needed. I didn't doubt that teacher was effective in their teaching. I will have to say that I don't think I personally could teach like that. I think I am more of the organized yet. I like for my desk and my classroom to be neat so that my students can utilize the room when they come. I think it all boils down to how we are wired. Students can learn a great deal from their teachers. I don't think teaching effectiveness has to do with organizational skills (I would say that it is part of it) as much as the relationships we are building with our students and where are priorities are.

Thanks for taking the time to hear(read)my perspective.

Will Matics (not verified)

Career Questions

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I'm a teacher of 7th graders and we have a career fair at the University of Virginia every year. Last year, the guidance counselor gave the same type of assessment that you are talking about. I took it myself and I turned out to be suited for either ministry or funeral director. Apparently I'm good at working with people in need! :)

dkzody (not verified)

I think MOST teachers,

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I think MOST teachers, especially at my school, fall into the same category as you do on that organizational scale. Although I do not consider myself to be organized, I guess I am because I know where things are and I am able to juggle three or four preps every year. The first year I taught yearbook, my editor came to me, asking for a paper the faculty had been given and another teacher could not find.

"Why did you come to me?"

"You're the only teacher I know who has an organized desk and knows where things are."

Every year, though, I get students who have the majority of their teachers outside of my department. They are shocked and amazed at what we have in our department and what we are able to do. I always think, "what the heck is the rest of this campus doing?"

Heather Summers (not verified)

Recreating Teaching Spaces

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Stephan,
The title of your blog entry intrigued me for several reasons. I have been an elementary school teacher for the last 9 years and the space in which we teach has always seemed limiting to me. I have never taken a survey like the one you mention but I imagine that I am somewhere in the middle, the parameters of the school work environment both comfort and annoy me on different occasions. They comfort when I feel that I have hooked my students on learning in a way that is all encompassing which usually involves a lot of creativity and they are annoying when I feel that we could go so much further without the obstruction of rules, standards, tests, time spent "on task" when the task is not of interest to the kids, etc. Currently, I am taking a doctoral course titled, Educational Technology. Our professor has asked us to think way outside the box on an assignment. This assignment is to create a classroom environment using innovative forms of technology. Our group was told that the sky is the limit and that we have a huge budget...for the fun of it! My group has decided to make plans for a virtual classroom. We are looking to expand the physical walls of the classroom by using screens instead of walls and a projector that displays on all four walls so that we could "be" at the Great Wall of China or inside the human body as we study it. We are also looking at comfortable and flexible work stations which allow for easy access to communicate with other students around the country and the world. We are at the beginning of the planning stages but just think it has made me rethink what I have always known to be a classroom. You are right that we are asking 100% of learners to learn in a way that only 10-20% of students learn best and it is about time that we all rethink and recreate our teaching and learning spaces. Hopefully, our dream project will become a reality one day. – Heather Summers (Chicago, IL)

Keri (not verified)

teaching and creativity

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Hello, I recently discovered this website and am finding it very interesting. I have always been interested in all things education, all things, learning, etc. I have a Master's degree in Behavioral Science, which has prepared me to be basically over qualified for many jobs, and under qualified for others. So many people have suggested that I teach!

My personality/interest inventory would probably be very similar to yours,but I think I would hate teaching! I love the theories and ideas involved though.

My thoughts are that while you might not fit the organized, detail oriented profile of most good teachers, people who don't fit that just might be the ones with the creative ideas that will improve learning and schools.

Good luck with what you are doing! I know lots of kids from my school could have been saved with a program like yours!

Keri

Bev Grinis (not verified)

Math teacher

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Hello, Steve,
I was very interested in your Feb. 5 article concerning "right" vs wrong jobs.

You said, " 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."

Having been a teacher myself for -er- well, longer than you(!), I have a slightly different "slant" on what you are thinking about your abilities vs. your current (and chosen) profession.

Here is my take: Throughout history, people have misunderstood what teachers do in their classrooms. More so today, as more people (basically government types) have begun mandating how and what we are to teach. I think THEY are the ones who think they know what we are supposedly doing all day. THEY are ones who think our jobs are no more than pushing papers, attending to endless details and papers. THEY are the ones who think that unless you are extremely organized and follow all the rules, you cannot possibly teach children to follow the rules (isn't that what we want, after all?).

So, you see, dear Steven, I am also one who would have scored very low in organization, following rules, detail oriented. being extremely orderly, etc. If those really were the qualifications for doing this job...I would have been FIRED a long time ago!

But I consider myself an extremely effective teacher, and have a long list of successful students to prove it.

Thanks for letting me vent!

Bev

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