Last Monday I completed a 20 year Odyssey that began my first day of teaching in August of 1991. Back then, I had a lot of theories about teaching, some of which was suggested by some oversimplified advice in my training. One such piece of advice was ‘Be yourself.’ I tried that and it went so poorly that I spent the next years of my teaching career fighting my instincts to reveal my true self, in the name of keeping control of my classes.
It worked, sometimes a bit too well, as people who have read my first book ‘Reluctant Disciplinarian’ know.
After five years of teaching, I switched careers for the next 6 years and was a computer programmer. Then I got back into teaching 8 years ago and I continued my practice of trying to let the students know as little about me as possible.
That’s not to say that I didn’t have a close relationship with my students. It was just that my personal life was not something I’d talk about. In my workshops and in my books I made it very clear that I advise all new teachers to limit the amount of personal things the students know about them. It is too risky. The little you might gain is offset by the high possibility that your students will not respect you and then you won’t be able to accomplish much as a teacher. “Don’t Be Yourself” is probably one of the more useful pieces of advice I’ve given to new teachers — especially as it contradicted the “Be Yourself” advice that is way too oversimplified to be helpful.
So I failed when I tried to be myself in 1991. Fast forward 20 years to 2011. Now I’m a 41 year old veteran teacher finishing my 13th year in the classroom. I’ve been married for five years and I have two children, a 3 year old daughter named Sarah and a 2 month old son named Sam. With the new baby at home, my 3 year old has been feeling a little confused, as is natural when a child learns she has to share her parents for the first time.
So as a special treat for her and for my students, I thought I would take a giant risk and do a belated ‘Bring Your Daughter To Work’ day. I told my classes, ahead of time so they could bring in activities for her to do.
As a teacher, I need to be in control of everything. Trying to anticipate everything that could go wrong, I brought all kinds of books and games and snacks to keep Sarah happy. As we were walking to my first class, Sarah dropped her bag of Ni-Hao Kai Lan snacks and the last two fell on the floor. She started bawling. I managed to calm her down enough to make it to the class. When the bell rang, I put Sarah in an empty seat in the classroom and started doing a pretend lesson where my high school students would practice counting forward and backwards. Sarah was not looking happy. She got up and stood behind me. Then she said she wanted to leave and then she marched out of the class.
I followed after her and then, behind me, a few girls from the class who have had extensive experience as babysitters asked Sarah if they could read a book to her. She nodded OK. For the rest of the day Sarah got more comfortable — sometimes too comfortable and I had to take her into an empty room to calm down. Some of my former students brought stickers and balloons for her, and everyone was excited to see her, but also excited to see me showing more of my human side.
In my last class, some students improvised a version of ‘The Three Little Pigs’ and some girls who were in chorus sang songs from ‘The Little Mermaid’ and ‘Tangled.’ All in all, it was a good day and Sarah is looking forward to coming back next year.
A few students wanted to get a picture with me and Sarah, so here it is: