I Tried to Be Just Like My Teaching Mentor…and I Failed

I knew exactly what kind of teacher I wanted to be, but that’s not how things turned out. That doesn’t mean I’m not exactly what some of my students need.

I Tried to Be Like My Teaching Mentor

I hung out with my high school English teacher, Mrs. Marshall, last week. You know how everybody has The Teacher? When we talk about why we went into education, we say, “It’s all because of this teacher I had…” Mrs. Marshall is mine. She taught me all four years of high school, and has been my teaching mentor for 13 years of my own career.

Mrs. Marshall was perfect.

She knew everything. She expected a lot from her students, and nobody ever wanted to let her down. I don’t remember her ever even raising her voice; she didn’t need to. The mere thought of her disappointment was enough to keep most of us in line.

I became a teacher because I wanted to be just like her.

Fast forward to present day: I failed. I am nothing like Mrs. Marshall. I yell. My kids do not particularly fear disappointing me. I make blatant, ridiculous mistakes all the time.  rs. Marshall’s unflappable dignity is notably absent in my willingness to belt out “Let It Go” to get my students’ attention. This bothered me for a very long time, but I’m beginning to realize that it’s okay. I can be a great teacher and be completely different from the great teacher I wanted to emulate.

It turns out, I don’t have to have Mrs. Marshall’s calm presence of mind to be a good teacher.

I can be loud and passionate and frequently frazzled. I don’t have to know everything. I can make mistakes in front of my students and let them see how I learn from them. It’s a different style…but it’s still good.

I’ve come to realize that different students need different teachers.

In fact, each student needs different teachers. Think back to your own school days. We needed the mean teacher who created a sense of battlefield camaraderie between the students in their class. We needed the understanding teacher who would cut us some slack. We needed the teacher who drilled us until we knew the material backward and forward, but we also needed the teacher who let us be creative and figure things out for ourselves. No single person can be all that.

We’re often quick to judge when somebody runs a classroom differently than we do. (I’ll be honest; if I see kids sitting quietly at desks in a colleague’s class, I turn up my nose a little. How can they learn without a little chaos?) But I’d argue that our strength as educators is in our diversity.

In a world that pushes more and more standardization on our craft and our students, it’s time to embrace the fact that we all do things differently, and that’s exactly what our kids need.

There are a lot of ways we’re evaluated these days. There are our standardized test scores, of course, and our performance on whatever rubric the district uses, and our student survey scores at the end of the semester. But I’ve found one more way to measure my success as a teacher, although it’s not immediately available at the end of the school year. I’ll wait a few years down the road and see how many kids come back and tell me they became teachers because they wanted to be like me. And then I’ll encourage them to fail, because the world doesn’t need more teachers like me.  It needs teachers like them.

Posted by Captain Awesome

Captain Awesome teaches seventh grade English at an urban charter school for refugee and immigrant kids. She is a big fan of books, social justice, holiday-flavored coffee creamers, righteous indignation, and Friday Night Lights.

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