I hesitate to say this, for fear of causing offence, but as a teacher your personality is a key factor in your chances of success. Think about it: when you were at school, I'd guess there were some teachers that you found downright unpleasant. And their very unpleasantness meant you treated them differently, whether it was messing around in their lessons, or refusing to do any work for them. Perhaps he was overly aggressive, or he spat at you when he talked; maybe she spent every lesson nagging the class, or her voice was really screechy and unpleasant. Whatever the negatives in your personality, children will pounce on them in a Lord of the Flies-esque frenzy. Children don't know how to fudge the truth like adults do. They haven't learnt to tell those white lies that smooth the course of civilised society. They just say it as they see it, and if they don't like what they see, they'll let you know. I'm not saying this is always right, and if their 'honesty' is abusive or prejudiced, then we challenge them about it. But we have to accept that they have the right to an opinion about whether they find you appealing/interesting or not.
Teaching isn't like most other jobs. You're not sat in an office, being judged by your peers for the quality of the work you produce. You're stood in your classroom, and whilst your peers might check on you occasionally (Ofsted, Senior Management - we'll come to them another time), the judgement that really counts is that of your students. I've used this metaphor before, but it stands repetition - to a great extent, a teacher is an actor standing in front of the audience of his or her students. The character you play needs to be interesting, engaging, unusual, inspiring, someone who the children respect and respond to, or at the very least someone they view as an authority on a subject.
Hot on the heels of the 'your personality matters' elephant is another slightly smaller one, a baby elephant if you like. And if I hesitated to write the first two paragraphs of this blog, then I'm quaking in my boots right now. The truth is, as well as having an appealing personality, it also helps if you look good too. Now, this one's a bit more flexible, in that the kids can still respect and work for you even if you're ugly as sin. But let's be honest, if you look cute, or stunning, or fit, it's gonna help at least a bit. When I think back to my own school days, I can remember a beautiful, auburn haired English teacher with the sweetest face you'd ever seen and these amazing bluey-green eyes. And we all, boys and girls alike, worked our socks off for her. We loved her, in the purest sense of the word. And there was mass devastation in that class when she announced that she was leaving to get married.
Your personality doesn't have to be appealing to work, though, it just needs to be interesting. There are many highly successful teachers with what might politely be termed 'unusual' personalities. Kids respond to a whole plethora of different types of teacher. You can be eccentric, you can be bizarre, you can be comic, you can be zen-like, you can be on the edge of madness (my preferred approach). But watch out if you're negative, a whinger, a nagger, desperately shy, or incredibly irritating - the kids will pounce. And if you do have one of these personality types, perhaps you should be considering a different career path, for your own sake, as well as theirs?
Of course, you can't really change your personality to any great extent. And let's face it, none of us are going to admit (to ourselves or to anyone else) that we have an unattractive personality, are we? I'm great; I bet you are too?
Elephants in the Classroom
You know that saying, about there being an 'elephant in the room': something everyone knows is there, but no one wants to mention? In teaching, there isn't just one elephant in the classroom, there's a whole herd of them, rampaging through the room. In this blog I plan to turn a spotlight on some of the unspoken and sometimes unpalatable truths about our noble profession (and the good stuff too). Because if we can't be honest about what makes a good learning experience, an effective school, or a good teacher, and equally what makes a bad one, then everyone loses.