Have you ever filled in those ‘what job should you do?’, ‘what’s your future career?’ or ‘what type of person are you?’ quizzes?
I enjoy most quizzes, so I have merrily filled them in over the years, but secretly I was hoping for a particular answer. I wouldn’t say I’m overburdened with aspiration, just as long as it could be anything, absolutely anything, other than teaching. Anything at all – air hostess (never going to happen), or refuse collector. Anything except teaching.
I did a questionnaire at church – top marks for teacher, the Myers-Brigg personality test – my make up suggests teacher. And it began to plague me. Clearly the universe felt I should be a teacher. I had very different ideas.
What I really wanted was to escape teaching.
I have always found classroom teaching hard. The many time pressures, the quotas, the general never being finished – I’ve never found a way to manage it. I have stood in admiration of people who always seemed to get everything done, had weekends free, or actually enjoyed it all and seemed totally sorted. Maybe that was a front, but I couldn’t keep up.
I would fill in another quiz. Teacher. Fine, I’ll change my answers. Teacher. ‘I don’t want to be a teacher!’ I’d cry in frustration.
But I was shouting the wrong phrase at the screen.
What I meant was ‘I don’t want to be a school teacher’, for the array of reasons above.
What I meant was that the trappings of the education system was sucking all of the joy out of teaching for me.
What I meant was that this particular style of teaching wasn’t for me, but that I’d become so blinkered, I couldn’t see another way of teaching. Preaching, discussion, school trips – I didn’t correlate them with that one word ‘teaching’.
Eventually I decided ‘no more class teaching’. (For more on this, read Out Of Control.) I searched and I found a new type of teaching. A type where the young people come to you, you impart knowledge, they go home. The education system maybe hasn’t got to this part yet. My job is to teach, inspire, engage. I still assess and question but on the spot.
Suddenly I realised the quizzes were right. I do love teaching. I’d loved teaching all along, but I couldn’t find the passion under the weight of other work. The best bit of classroom teaching for me was always the light bulb moments, and explaining a new world that children then understood.
It got me thinking, how often do we pigeon hole ourselves?
I’m not creative.
I can’t cook.
I don’t dance.
I’m not a designer, I can’t put things together like that.
By ‘not being creative’, we often mean we’re no good at art. We mean we can’t make cordon bleu cuisine, but I’ve never yet killed anyone with my cooking. Yet. I can’t break dance, but I used to be highly skilled in tap and ballet dancing. I’ve rearranged the living room – that’s design.
Now I’m not great at drawing. My artistic efforts rarely resemble the beautiful mental picture I had. But I can make cards. I can write. I can arrange cake artistically on a plate. Somewhere along the line we narrowed the concept right down. You can create computer programmes, you can create a piece of machinery. When did ‘creative’ mean ‘art’?
Most people can cook something. My youngest brother is creative in his cooking, he can put together flavours that work. I don’t have this skill. But I can bake and decorate a cake (most of the time, that’s a story for another occasion) without the recipe and have it looking passably like the desired object.
The same happened with teaching. It came to mean ‘classroom’, ‘school’, and a job title.
I love standing up in front of a group of people and speaking, whatever the size of group. While it’s other people’s worst nightmares, I genuinely enjoy it. I love passing on things I’ve learnt, explaining and exploring concepts. I love the finding out that precedes teaching, and the joy people experience afterwards now that they know one more fact or reason behind something.
I’ve discovered that I am a teacher. All those quizzes were right (but don’t believe everything you read on Internet quizzes!).
I love to share knowledge.
I love to learn.
I love to talk.
I love to ask difficult questions.
I…well I like trying to answer difficult questions depending on how difficult they are…
I love trying to find out the answers.
This is all part of teaching. It’s just now I do it in a different setting.
I dismantled my narrow concept of a wider field. It took time.
Maybe you feel stuck?
Take the broader parts, refit them together, put them in a different context in order to try something new.
Now I’m thinking about actively seeking out opportunities to teach. And I can, finally, happily, say, ‘hello, my name’s Ruth, and I’m a teacher’.