On Teacher Personalities and Compassion

Hello and happy 2018.

If you remember what I referred to last week, I spoke about authenticity and how important it can be for educators. But as much as I think I made some good points, pushing readers to strive for authenticity doesn’t mean a whole lot if we don’t actually define the term, at least to some extent.

So what does it actually mean to be authnetic, then? I don’t actually know for sure, but at the moment I believe it’s when you live the same way both inside and outside of the classroom. This could mean that your classroom persona is inauthentic and should be more aligned with your external life, or it could mean the opposite. I do believe that as an educator, you can’t truly hide your personality behind too much artifice. Maybe you can pretend for most of a day or a week or a semester, but whatever the real or authentic version of yourself is, it will be revealed. And this is a good thing. As educators, like most humans, we are often pushed towards exuding confidence whether or not we actually feel this way, and it seems likely to me (though I have no proof of this) that a disconnect between a classroom personality and an external one could be driven by a struggle with confidence, either in the sense of having too little and trying to project otherwise, or having too much and being thus unable to adequately reflect on challenges. I’ll come back to this.

Having posited this, I wonder if there are personality traits that correlate with better educators. Surely we’ve all experienced effective educators  and thus have images in our minds about what that looks like, but this is entirely subjective. I did some cursory research and came up with a couple articles, one here, and one here. And those links cover almost all of the traits you might have guessed, including patience, graciousness, and optimism.

All of this seems to be amorphous and purely superficial to me, though. What I think is needed is a comparison between the way educators are seen by their colleagues, friends and partners, and the way they are seen by students, ideally students old enough to have a solid grasp of adult personalities.

Imagine a survey that does not seek to condemn. One that lists personality traits and asks participants whether or not TeacherX possesses and/or displays them. Once complete, TeacherX’s results can be compared between their students and the others in their lives.

I doubt any educator would receive an absolutely equally matched score. I am sure some of the most persnickety teachers I ever had would come off as warm and generous to the people closest to them. Returning to my point above, perhaps the educators who were most similar inside the classroom and out might be those who didn’t chase an expression of self-confidence but those who practice self-compassion, which you can read about in this recent article here. The article states:

““The first and most important thing to do is to notice that voice in your head – that running commentary we all have as we go about our lives,” Mr. Barker said. “Often that voice is way too critical. You beat yourself up for every perceived mistake. To be more self-compassionate, you need to notice that voice and correct it.””

Every educator has a few dozen chances to make a mistake in each class, and even the best of us will indeed make many mistakes. If we’re compassionate with ourselves, we can improve, and not spend so much effort trying not to fail. Again, I have yet to study this, but I think this would lead to considerably more authentic teaching, teaching that admits to flaws but does not punish people for having them, teaching that encourages honesty and sharing when needed and not superficial bluster.

I think a list centered on compassion and related traits would be far more instructive than the vague list of beneficial attributes you can find all across the internet. Once a framework has been built, perhaps it would be easier to determine how authentic most teachers are, and potentially compare this to their success as educators. How to measure said success is a question for another day, but I think talking about authenticity will only get us so far without some sort of metrics to support the concept.

What do you think?