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Re-Creating Teaching Spaces

Stephen Hurley

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

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

Comments (26) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Caryn Silhan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Reading your article was quite an eye opener for me. As a new teacher, I've found myself becoming frustrated with my implementaion of lessons, classroom managment, etc. I think I do a good job of teaching, and I've received positive feedback. However, like you, I find myself not pleased with the actual process. Don't get me wrong. I LOVE teaching. It's something I've wanted to do since I met my first teacher. But, I fear that through my upcoming years teaching, I will get bored of the process. The actual task of teaching. In college we learn about the multiple intellengences, that you mention. I am happy to read that your mission is using an intellegence to not only increase student learning, but make your job as an educator more interesting and life-fullfiling. However, as a new teacher, with creative ideas and motivation, I find myself easily stifled by standards, school requirements, testing, and the countless things I have to cover before the 183 days are up. Where is the time and the freedom to teach what we need to teach the way we want to teach it?

Stephen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Caryn,

Thanks for responding. I think that the key for me has been to always look for the edge of the profession...and then hang out there. There have always been demands on teachers but, these days, everything seems so politically charged. If you are passionate about the profession...and it sounds like you are, you must find ways to stimulate that passion on a daily basis. I'm working on a piece right now about "Stoking the Fire", but a few of the things that have worked for me: connecting with the professional reading, whether they be journals, professional publications, websites like this (!)...and doing it on a regular basis. You will find many kindred spirits with which to connect, even if its only a text-based connection.

The second big thing for me has feeding your own passions and sharing that in your teaching. For me, one of my passions is music, so I have sought out assignments that allow me to do that on a regular basis.

I'll wait to share the third big thing, but I'll close by saying that there is still a great deal of room to live and grow in this profession. I think that teachers like you and me, however, need to push the boundaries a little more and try to create the teaching and learning spaces where our talents and gifts can really shine!

Keep in touch...

Stephen Hurley

Dianne Trask's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Stephen!
I am another one who finds organization to be a low priority and took one of those surveys as a student. My results always pointed in the direction of police or fire rescue, however ever since grade 7 I desired to be a Physical Education teacher. I love what I do as I have always had a passion for working with children, especially teaching them to be physically active for life. I find I can empathize with my students who have difficulty with organization skills. Although I have yet to find a full contract position in 5 years of teaching, every year I meet students who remind me why I made the right choice to enter his profession. Whether it is coaching a team to a North Peel Championship or helping a student go from academic and behavioural struggles to honour roll and school leadership team, these are the things that have kept me motivated to stick with teaching (especially since the struggles to find a full time position have been so disheartning this summer). Hopefully wherever I wind up I will continue to meet students who will help to remind me why I love this profession so much!

Stephen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Diane,

Great to hear from you! FIrst, I'm really disappointed that, after five years, you haven't found a full time position. I like the empathy part. There has been so much push at our school for students at all levels to keep agendas, write in them everyday, show them to parents. I'm looking for a way this year, to create a type of arts-based agenda format. so that it might resonate with more students.

I'm glad that you have continued to find the passion in a profession where you might seem, at times, that you don't fit!

Keep in touch, and I hope that you find some resonance here at Edutopia.


Kate Janning's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

When I graduated, all anyone said to me was read First Days of School by Wong. Everyone said it would help with everything and anything I would need or have questions about. I am still waiting for it to kick in, mainly the part about organization. Teachers have kindly told me titles of books to help with organiion. Instead, I have all of the books neatly on a shelf. I feel bad reminding my students to have clean organized desks (I teach 2nd grade); when my own desk is a mess. So I try to do the pile look on my desk so it looks clean. People think I am organized without really being.

StephenHurley's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Kate!

Thanks for the reply. This is cognitive dissonance at its best! I have the same sort of dissonance when I insist that my students buy a school agenda/calendar every year, and I don't keep one myself.

This is also one of the reasons that I don't even have a teacher's desk...


Stephen Hurley

Jasmin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I share your pain! I too am a relatively new teacher. I love kids and I love interacting with them. I would consider myself a pretty creative and out-of-the-box kind of teacher. I put hours into planning my lessons and preparing the most innovative activities that I can, so my students will be actively engaged in lessons and develop a love for learning. However, I also find myself easily stifled by standards, school requirements, testing, and the countless things I have to cover before the 183 days are up as well. The school where I teach is a poverty school that constantly struggles to make AYP despite endless meetings and trainings and improvement plans. It all becomes very overwhelming. We have worked so many requirements and rules into our teaching and into our kids' days that we have managed to suck every little bit of fun and excitement that the students may have had. At what point do we get to use our own professional judgement to make decisions for the unique learners that we have in our classrooms? At what point do we get to excite students about learning with new and different activities? I also wonder, where is the time and the freedom to teach what we need to teach the way we want to teach it?

Dan Bulman's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Stephen, your article touches on so many serious issues in teaching in a light-hearted way. One of these issues is that educators still love to label, compartmentalize and categorize our students. I am reminded of the Simpsons episode 15 years ago when Bart completes a job aptitude test and is told to be a police officer (and Lisa is told to be a housewife). So many teachers like to label and compartmentalize students because that helps them be "organized".

I am disorganized like all the other people who have responded. I suffer from "piles" of marking and planning like every other disorganized teacher. But don't you find that we, the disorganized teachers, are far more likely to be the ones who spend more time with our students, think up more creative ways to teach our lessons and challenge the status quo?

I think that we, as teachers, would do a far better job if we were able to spend more time on connecting with our students and less time on the massive amounts of bureaucratic paperwork we are faced with. Wouldn't it be great to have board consultants call us up and ask us what they can do for us?

Instead, we have numerous superintendents in our boards, all vying to get promoted to director, who make us change how we teach or do all kinds of other work that only peripherally helps us help our students learn. My favourite study in teacher's college was the one in which the researchers found that the most narrow-minded group of all professionals was "education administrators". I bet those working in the board offices are very well-organized...

For the rest of us, Stephen, I suggest a call to arms (or pencils, if you wish). It's time for teachers to "take back the classroom"! We disorganized teachers have the right idea, that the students come first, not the paperwork. We generally have the most creative ideas (like arts@newman), are more open-minded and put more time into getting to know our students. Even though we really would like to be a bit better organized, at least we know, in the big scheme of things, we are on the right track.

Dr. Painter's picture

Categorizing teachers into a "type" seems like another symptom of the forced uniformity of test-based education. As we know, there are as many kinds of teachers as there are learners. My other careers--advertising, working in a hospital, and yes, farming--have made me a more dimensional art teacher. I know from my years in advertising that sometimes people who make up surveys have hidden agendas. Surveys should be taken with a grain of salt. There is more than one way to be a great teacher!

Dr. Painter's picture

To Kate--Harry Wong's book The First Days of School has many good things in it, but it was not written for arts teachers. His advice about wearing a dark suit every day is just one example. We work in a different world!

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