When I joined Teach For America, I was not full of wide-eyed wonder. I went to public school, and I had made my fair share of substitutes cry. So, I knew what I was getting into. I didn’t expect to be Michelle Pfeifer in “Dangerous Minds.” I had never really been naturally good at anything growing up, so I expected to have a long way to go before I was a decent teacher, at least in terms of behavior management.
That was not the case.
I had my fair share of struggles my first year, but I wasn’t substantially worse than anyone else in terms of managing behavior. I was not good, but I was serviceable. By year two, I was actually pretty good. I gained the reputation among the students and teachers for not having to send kids out. This is good. Nobody would choose to be bad at classroom management, but there are cons to having this skill set, too.
The downside of being good at behavior management is becoming known as the teacher that is good at behavior management.
Leaders and administrators organize their teams based on the strengths of the team members. This makes sense, but what this could mean practically is that you are typecast in a role that you do not desire. You are put in a box, and in essence, penalized for your excellence in one area as if you aren’t good in others.
For example: Look at the NBA. There are some big players that are so good at scoring near the basket that people don’t realize that they can shoot three-pointers, too. They might even be better at shooting than some of the guards that actually get to shoot the threes … but it will always be better for the team for them to use their exceptional scoring ability near the basket. So too is the case with teaching.
It is always better for the school if I am in a role where my considerable ability managing students is leveraged to the highest degree, but it’s not necessarily better for me.
- I get moved to jobs based on behavior or culture needs as opposed to what I am good at teaching or what I want to teach.
- I always get the most misbehaved kids in the groups on field trips.
- My strong pedagogy, until recently, was always overlooked.
- In group settings with children where roles are undefined, teachers and students always look to me to make decisions, announcements, and keep things under control … but this informal authority doesn’t extend to areas outside of discipline.
This perception does not just make life difficult now, but it actually impacts the future as well. When people ask me what I want to do when I leave the classroom, they usually assume that I want to shift into some type of disciplinarian dean role. While other teachers, who are quite frankly not as good, get pegged for more diverse roles in education because people have taken a more holistic look at their skill set. It’s sucks to know that when opportunities become available in the education community people overlook you because they see you as a specialist only in discipline.
I know how this sounds. “Some cocky teacher, has found a round-about way to brag about how good his classroom culture is.” But the opposite is true. I’m bragging about how good the other stuff I do is and lamenting the fact that people don’t even know it, and I rarely get to explore it.
Just because someone is better at a certain role than someone else would be doesn’t mean that is what they should do.
Administrators or anyone else in charge of a team should take inventory of the talents their members have, all of their talents. You never know what people are capable of and people get tired of only being seen as being good in one area their entire career. Many organizations have found success when they have given people the freedom to step outside of their traditional boxes. After all, the NBA even lets the big guys shoot threes now.