Professional Learning

Re-Creating Teaching Spaces

February 5, 2009

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 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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