I once thought being a teacher was being a superhero. Instead of a magic lasso, I’d have a textbook; I’d step out of library stacks transformed. My students would see the “teacher me.” I maintained the charade my first years. My classes were behaved, organized, and silent. The information was most important, and my task was deliver, assess, and raise student achievement. Eventually, I realized my ideas about identity were related to my teenage years—because I was different, I was not able to express myself in ways that enabled learning. If I embodied the perfect teacher stereotype, my kids wouldn’t see my learning struggles. But accepting the idea that there was one kind of good teacher required perpetuating the idea that there is one kind of good student, which I knew wasn’t true. If I believed this I would be rejecting my teen self, still there, hiding behind the dress and heels.
Development of identity parallels intellectual development, and if we are unsure of ourselves we cannot succeed fully. My eccentricity is inspiring, and students can learn to be who they are by accepting diversity in me. Now, the first time a student says, “Ms. Morris, you are sooo weird,” I know the real learning can begin.
Sarah L. Morris, Berkeley Springs High School, Berkeley Springs, West Virginia
7 years of teaching