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Which Teacher Personality Best Describes You?

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator
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When my family gets together, one of the favorite games we play is Wizards, Gnomes, and Giants. It is great fun for young and old alike and is based on the games Rock-Paper-Scissors and Sharks and Minnows.

The concept is that wizards can overpower gnomes, and gnomes can overpower giants, and giants can overpower wizards. For some reason, these are the hardest things to remember when play begins, but that is what makes it challenging and fun. The trick is to consistently overpower your opponent -- as in the other games mentioned -- and gather more members for your team.

So, on holidays when we are all together, we divide up the family group, kids and adults all mixed up, into two teams. An imaginary line is drawn in the grass in the center of the lawn and an end zone is established at each end of the lawn. The two groups huddle and decide as a group what they are going to be -- wizards, gnomes, or giants.

To begin play, the teams line up on each side of the central line. On the count of three, each shows his or her sign: Wizards have their hands in front of them as if performing a spell, gnomes have their hands on the side of their heads symbolizing big ears, and giants have both hands straight up in the air because they are tall. Once the game gets started, we would just forget who was supposed to chase whom. No matter what, it ends with a lot of laughter and great fun.


As I was recalling these wonderful holidays in Arizona, participating in this game with my siblings and their families, I couldn't help relate it to education.

I am sure there are several connections I could have made, such as having fun and learning by practice, but the one I homed in on was perhaps a little darker. I have noticed over the years that there are three types of teachers: wizards, gnomes, and giants.

The wizards are the ones who are always making things happen, for good or not so good. They are the ones on the campus committees, who chaperone the dances and organize the faculty parties. They seem to know about everyone and be involved in everything.

Then there are the gnomes, who watch, observe, and listen. They participate but rarely initiate anything. They do what is required and no more. They specialize in routines and ruts, and they stay out of the way of others while also avoiding the limelight.

Finally, there are the giants. These are the teachers who seem to have something to say about everything, and none of it positive. They criticize everyone, especially the wizards, but will rarely lift a finger to lend a hand. The giants oppose anything that resembles change, even if it means improvement. Giants are all about tradition.

Step Out of Safety Zones

Painting a picture of schools in this way, I think may clarify how they operate, or fail to operate. Nearly every school where I have worked, or visited, has had several wizards, a lot of gnomes, and a few giants. I tried to think what I would have been labeled. I guess during my first years, I would have been very gnomish, but later, I think I graduated to being a wizard. There were times, however, when I felt and behaved as a giant, especially when I believed the administration was wasting my time, or when I was struggling as a teacher and preferred to blame anyone but myself.

I think I learned, however, that complaining does nothing but create animosity, which drains a person of creativity. When I was a gnome, however, my biggest problem was taking risks. I was afraid of being singled out for taking a stand or voicing my opinion. I see this attitude now as cowardly and selfish. I think of all the good I could have done, but because I had chosen to keep my head down and simply do what was in front of me, I let opportunity pass me by.

Some things that make me think I am a wizard now are my favorite quotes framed on my office wall. Although I do not agree with much of what this guy stood for, I love these two quotes from him:

Far better it is to dare mighty things
to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure
than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much
because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.
> -- Theodore Roosevelt

And the other one is its corollary:

In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing
the next best thing is the wrong thing
and the worst thing you can do is nothing.
> -- Theodore Roosevelt

Whenever I am tempted to slip back into the safety of gnomishness, or the rancor of the giants, all I have to do is look on my wall and read these quotes to myself. Good or bad, I have to do something, take a risk, and either reap the rewards or suffer the consequences.

In the classroom, this philosophy means that I have to take the extra time to prepare interactive, engaging lessons. I have to risk a bit of noise or chaos, and I have to be out of the ordinary and memorable.

Matter of fact, as I think about it, every good thing that has happened in my life has come about because I was willing to take a risk. That is why I want to continue to be a wizard. In classroom practice, this may mean trying a new teaching strategy, or reaching out in a different way to a troubled student, or experimenting with new educational technology.

As a teacher, when have you been a wizard in your work? What helps you maintain your wizardry? Please share your experiences and ideas!

Comments (19)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Wiguest's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Ben, excellent thoughts on teachers. I wonder if it will inspire any Giants and Gnomes to attain "Wizardship"?

I do not agree that wizards are making things happen for bad. It may be that the Giants and the Gnomes think doing things differently or having to move out of their comfort zone is bad, but in my 20 yr. teaching experience if it weren't for wizards, we'd still be using coal in our classrooms and teaching for rote memorization of facts, only!!

Wizards, keep making things happen. Unite to move things forward!!

Look forward to more good games Ben! Keep it up.

Andrew Pass's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I wonder if it's possible to say that in a world that is quickly progressing there is no such thing as standing still. Gnomes regress if they stand still passively, considering so much is moving forward around them. Giants almost run backwards. In a Twenty First Century school ever teachers needs to be a risk taker and an initiator. If teachers lack these qualities, they won't be able to push their students forward. If students don't move forward, they too will regress. Perhaps one of our problems in the U.S. is that too much regression has occurred.

Andrew Pass

Sonya Jordan Paul's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The best part of being a Wizard is creating junior wizards! How many times have I come up with an idea, only to have my middle-school students run with it, add to it, spice-it-up, and make it better?

I came up with a game called "battle of the verbs" which is similar to the "battle of the bands" from my disc jockey days.

The kids loved it, created the rules of the game, including no hesitations, and no repeats, and decided to line-up and to use "battle of the nouns" prepositions, adjectives, and adverbs. They would play some variation of the game every day if I let them. What a fantastic non-boring way of teaching those dreaded parts of speech.

Truly,students are magical, if you allow them to have some control.

Ben Johnson (Author)'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)


Great ideas--"battle of the verbs"! The nice thing about this kind of creativity is that it opens the teacher to be able to teach higher standards than the minimum state standards. Creative teachers get students to learn more than the basics, and they not only learn it, but they have fun doing it. Is it easy... nope, but it is really worth it. Thanks for sharing!

Ben Johnson
San Antonio, Texas

Ben Johnson (Author)'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Wizards Unite:

You are spot on target, though I just want to clarify one eenzy- weenzy point. Rote memorization kills, as you pointed out correctly, but the act of (not rote) memorization pushes short term memory into long term memory and wizards are the only ones that can make that fun! Simple mind-numbing repetition works but we hate it. Leave it to a wizard to come up with ways to get that necessary repetition without making students detest it. On the contrary, a surprising thing happens. Students begin to like learning again.

Thanks for your comment and keep up the classroom wizardry!

Ben Johnson
San Antonio, Texas

Jillian's picture

I enjoyed reading your post about gnomes, giants, and wizards, and how you related them to education. I am in the process of getting my master's degree and have been reading a lot about novice and expert teachers.

Gnomes remind me of novice teachers. They are afraid to take risks. Novice teachers might learn lots of new ideas and go through the motions of going to workshops and conferences, but fail to incorporate these new ideas into their classroom.

Wizards remind me of teachers who are well on their way to becoming expert teachers. Like you said, they make things happen. Especially in the classroom.

I like to think of myself as a teacher who is striving to become a wizard. One of the many factors that is helping me to maintain my wizardry is collaborating with my collegues. Another factor is keeping myself up to date on the latest research in education. Finally, participating in these blogs and others is a great way to keep up my wizardry!

Ben Johnson (Author)'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)


You are absolutely correct. You can say that you heard this first from me: The savior of public education as we know it will be intense teacher collaboration in professional learning communities. This is the only way that we can really improve schools. Why is this?

Regardless of what you believe, the brutal fact is that the most important element in improving public education is improving the TEACHER. We have 50 years of staff and professional development that have tried to do this and failed to a great extent. Very little teacher improvement has happened by going to workshops and seminars.

Up to now, moderate teacher improvement has happened when the principal has set the standard, then measured the teachers and evaluated them on that standard. This has brought about good improvement in schools with principals that are on the ball. Unfortunately, this motivation is external and there are too few of those kinds of principals to go around.

The next logical progression is teachers pushing each other to greater heights, along with the principal in real learning communities that Ted Sizer envisioned. When the teachers collaborate and do their action research, gather and share data, and then analyze it with the eye on improvement, then that is when real teacher improvement happens. Teachers will be intrinsically motivated and everyone wins.

So...collaboration is more than just sharing lesson plans and quizzes, although that is important. It is developing teaching skills and talents as a small group of teachers in order to raise the bar for the students.

Keep up the good work and never lose that enthusiasm that you have in great gobs!

Ben Johnson
San Antonio, Texas

Kristi Arnholt's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Ben, I loved your blog! The game your family plays fits perfectly into our education system. It describes us well. I feel the same as you do about how one can float from being a Wizard to a Gnome. It depends on the circumstances. The Giants exist in my building, too. They poison our minds with negativity and stomp on our passion for teaching. I wish we, Wizards, could cast spells on them to convert them into one of us.

Kristi Arnholt's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hello, Ben! I loved your blog! Your family game describes educators perfectly! There are a couple of points I agree with you on. One, about how one can move from a Wizard to Giant. It does depend on circumstances. Two, the Giants poison the Wizards with their negativity and stomp on their passion for teaching. I wish we Wizards could cast a spell on them to turn them away from the dark side.

I am currently taking my master's program in Curriculum and Instruction. We are studying about the progression from novice teacher to expert teacher. Novice teachers remind me of Gnomes. Expert teachers remind me of Wizards. However, I know of some veteran teachers who are definitely categorized as Giants. They unfortunately have lost their passion for teaching and desperately need it to be rekindled.

One further point,when I finished reading your blog, I categorized my colleagues immediately. As a matter of fact, I was discussing this with a colleague just the other day. We were noticing that teachers with 5-7 years of experience are staying within the Gnome realm. Some are even slipping to Giants. These young, fresh educators are not becoming the professionals they have the potential to be. When I began my career it was expected of you to attend meetings, sit in on district committees(ex. curriculum), participate at school functions. I now see how those expectations helped me to grow and become a Wizard. What is happening to our young educators? They can't become Giants this early in their career!

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