Being a successful teacher means embracing dichotomy. I first wrote about this in a tweet as I was starting to recognize people having conversations on Twitter about teaching that were nearly the opposite of each other.
Dichotomies of a successful teacher:— Gerard Dawson (@GerardDawson3) October 23, 2019
Be committed but don't burn out.
Set goals but recognize the infinite external factors.
Care about students but don't take things personally.
Be a lifelong learner but don't get obsessed with novelty.
Part of the challenge of education is that these ideas have to coexist. So these are four dichotomies of being a successful teacher I’ve noticed, and there are certainly many others. Here’s the first one:
Be committed, but don’t burn out.
This is a necessary part of the job. It is a job that requires commitment. It requires a longterm view. You can’t walk into a classroom and see tangible growth in students’ abilities or witness them learning new information in a single class often.
You have to be committed and trust the long term. At the same time, you have to be able to sustain yourself, sustain your energy and your focus, without burning out.
As I teach for longer and longer, I realize that this means actually holding back part of myself.
The part of myself that I hold back is the attachment of my identity to the results of my students. (This relates to my third point.) But anyway, here’s the second dichotomy:
Set goals, but recognize the infinite external factors.
Setting goals is important and actually mandated based on my evaluation system. At the same time, there are so many things that can get in the way of meeting those goals.
On a daily basis, that might be a fire drill. During the week, I might have something going on in my personal life. For example, I recently moved, which certainly gets in the way of me having full energy to teach. During the course of a unit, there might be material that students find especially challenging or even uninteresting. And during the whole school year, of course, there are students with various personalities, home lives, and histories with school and education that are things I can deal with, but not necessarily change throughout that school year.
Related to this is my third dichotomy:
Care about students, but don’t take things personally.
You have to care about students’ educations, and you have to recognize and accept their personalities and care about their wellbeing. But many teachers fall into the trap thinking that they will be students’ saviors. Or even worse, thinking that they’ll be students’ friends.
The problem with this thinking is that there is a level of disconnection required to be in a successful teacher.
Like with being a good parent, at times you have to do things that will not make the students happy or even feel good in the moment. That might be telling them a difficult truth about their effort or about their work, for example. However, you know that it’s good for them in the long run.
The last dichotomy that I thought of as I wrote this original tweet was this:
Teachers need to be lifelong learners, but not get obsessed with novelty.
Teaching, like my other love when it comes to work, writing, are both infinite. I can constantly learn new things, constantly improve, and constantly find ways to get better.
Part of that infinite wealth of information is all of the new that is always coming out. New technology, new ideas, new approaches.
Instead of looking externally when it comes to beinga lifelong learner, it’s important to look internally. Instead of being distracted by the new, I find it valuable to reflect on my own abilities and my own performance and letting that drive lifelong learning. That is a far more sustainable and effective approach for me.
So those were the four dichotomies of a successful teacher I’ve noticed. I’d love for you to send me your own dichotomies of being a successful teacher or of being a successful whatever it is you do: educator, entrepreneur, consultant, writer, et cetera.
So tweet me at @GerardDawson3 three with your dichotomies of success.