It’s been a little while between posts lately – I’ve been busy job hunting for 2016! I’ve had a particular blog post on my mind for a few months now and my topic of interest this time is teacher stereotypes and cynicism, particularly cynicism of teachers and the way this can spread, infect and disadvantage not only teachers, but also students.
Pop culture has long projected exaggerated caricatures of a certain teacher stereotype; one who is angry, miserable and disinterested in their role as a teacher and the success of their students. Some of my favorites include the terrifying Mrs. Trunchball, the principal in Roald Dahl’s Matilda, Mrs. Krabapple, the wry primary school teacher in The Simpsons and the painfully boring unnamed Economics teacher from Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, with his classic monotone drawl as he tries to get a response from his class; “Anyone? Anyone?”
Ok, so thankfully we do occasionally get a different teacher stereotype; even it if it is a little cheesy. Teachers such as Robin Williams’ John Keating in The Dead Poets Society, Hillary Swank as Erin Gruell in The Freedom Writers, and Jack Black as Dewey Finn in School of Rock, all embody the joy, passion and drive of the stereotypical ‘inspiring teacher’.
Sometimes I’m struck by the ways in which teachers emulate some of these stereotypical qualities; the good and the bad! We can all have our moments of cynicism; there’s even increasing research that proves that strategic negativity can actually be useful and contribute to happiness. However, according to educator and blogger Alex Quigley, the most damaging quality a teacher can posses is cynicism. He refers to a metaphor by author Hywel Roberts, who defines two types of teachers; those who ‘drain’, and those who ‘radiate’. The characteristics of ‘drain’ teachers can manifest as a fixed mindset of student ability, placing blame on students when they themselves have failed, and condemning students to failure.
The always-interesting Dr. Richard Curwin warns that cynicism can spread through a school, potentially destroying the atmosphere and the learning. He’s listed some symptoms to look out for:
- You check your watch before your first cup of coffee or before nine AM to see how much longer until you can go home.
- What you teach becomes more important than who you teach.
- You begin believing that nothing works with “these” kids, that they are beyond hope.
- Every day feels the same.
- You often wonder why no one is doing anything to make life better for you.
- You have lost your own love of learning. Tedium has replaced wonder.
With these symptoms in mind, what can be done and what is it that the ‘radiator’ teachers do differently? Hywel states that “‘radiator’ teachers have “botherdness, warmth and generosity of spirit”, with a growth mindset about the ability of their students. Additionally, Quigely suggests that another antidote to cynicism is humility: “The best teachers I know are incredibly humble. Indeed, they often appear to lack confidence in their ability, such is their deep-seated humility. This leads them towards seeking out new knowledge, willingly adapting what they do and constantly striving towards self-improvement.”
Stephen Colbert, American comedian , beautifully describes cynicism:
“Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. But saying “yes” begins things. Saying “yes” is how things grow. Saying “yes” leads to knowledge.”
As 2015 comes to a close, and the hectic pace of Term 4 takes hold, I hope this post prompts you to consider these points, reflect on your own contribution to the morale of both the staffroom and your classroom, and to keep your focus on self-improvement. Rock on, and spread the ‘botherdness’!