584. Image

People don’t always do what they would have done if they’d only known better. They often have reasons to wish they’d done things differently. And that can be exactly how they get to know better next time. Foolishness, reviewed intelligently, can be a great way to get wise. College, for example, can be a great playground, chock-full of foolishness. The most important learning I did in college happened when there were no books, papers, or professors around. And that learning didn’t show up on my transcript.
With that in mind, I think it’s too bad that teachers feel so much pressure to make everyone think that they’re right all the time. They can often be in the limelight, like politicians, and have to do the best they can to get people to think that everything they’ve done and said has been well-conceived and impeccably delivered. Even when they’re secretly pretty sure they’ve screwed up.
But the pressure is real. Parents tend to want their children to get the best education and the best treatment available. They can’t really be there to check up on teachers. Even if they could, they might not know what they ought to be looking for. So they have to rely on image, just as many voters choose the candidates who are best at seeming to represent what voters consider important.
I don’t think that as a teacher, I did much to present a great image. When I made mistakes, I admitted that they were mistakes; I didn’t cover them up with jargon. I was advised by several people to think more about my image – to think more about how I’d be seen by people who relied on image. And after I’d been teaching for twenty-four years, I really did try. During my last year as a teacher, I wrote a weekly newsletter – the best effort I’d ever made to look like the good teacher I think I was. Parents appreciated that newsletter; they liked having a way to find out what was going on in my classroom.
I’d finally learned that looking like a good teacher was not the direct opposite of being one. I didn’t go out and buy a new wardrobe, or get my hair styled to look just “right;” that would have felt phony. But writing that newsletter did not feel at all hypocritical; I was letting parents know what I was doing with their children. Even parents who didn’t like everything I did liked knowing that I was thinking about it.
Many teachers work hard to get children to stop trying so hard to look good – to take risks and try things out, even if some people might look at them funny. I think school would be better if teachers could also stop trying so hard to look good. If teachers are willing to take risks, trying what makes sense to them and feeling okay about letting other people see and critique what they’re doing, maybe teachers will end up learning more and teaching better.

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