Last year, when I had a student teacher for the first time, I had to seriously reflect on who I am as a teacher and what influences have forged that persona over the last nine years.
Some are good influences:
--team teaching with my (at the time) best-friend who taught the same course in the adjoining classroom for the same period. Stealing her mannerisms for comedic effect, then never un-stealing them.
--sharing a room with a beautiful, wise, collected veteren teacher my first year. Watching the way she pushed her students and yet communicated how much she valued them as human beings. Taking her way of fielding questions - "hmm", thoughtful pause, eyes to the ceiling, rock back onto the other foot, finger to mouth, gather thoughts, smile, respond (usually with a question, instead of an answer).
--being young, inexperienced, and scared because I had no training and little classroom experience. Seeking help from everyone who would listen so I could do better for my students, and stealing their best ideas.
Some were not so good:
--moving from a school where students loved me and valued what I had to offer, to a school where students were suspicious of me because of my colour and vocabulary. Shutting part of myself down so they wouldn't hurt me any more than they already had.
--finding wonderful teachers who were talented and far more structured than I ever had wanted to be...and stealing their structures to hide behind when I couldn't make my students care, either about me or the curriculum.
--adopting a brand new mindset where I wouldn't have to show them who I was or of what I was capable, intellectually or pedagogically. Hiding behind "every student every day" because if I did little whole class instruction, I wouldn't have to prove myself publicly.
As I write out that list, I see that all the things about my teaching persona that I see as positive, were in my first three years. And all the negatives are in the last six.
And the last six years have all but obliterated the gains from my first three years.
And therein lies the central narrative, the central problem, the central struggle of this year, and in fact in my whole life: I don't know who I am.
I'm struck by the fact that in the first three years, arguably my most successful years, I was just stealing pieces of other teachers' personas (EXCELLENT teachers though they are). And yet, that was more me than what I showed in the following six years.
Frankly, these last six years have been about adding artifice. Creating layers to make sure that there was always a strong public persona. I spent six years forgetting that what is important is who I really am, as well as the dignity, value, and worth I have to contribute to my students as their teacher.
That is even why Flipped Class appealed to me. Video is the perfect medium for me to hide behind. Hell, collaborating with my new BFF** is a way of hiding - we teach together, so there is less attention on either of us individually. I find comfort in being part of a team - less risk, less pressure on me individually, and someone to steal from full-time.
And yet, paradoxically, it is only as a member of that amazing team that I finally saw myself as I really am. Part of that is down to having someone there, in the middle of all your mess, stripping away the layers of BS, until what is left is just...you.
And here's the most revolutionary idea yet:
What if the point of collaboration and friendship was NOT to fix each other, but rather to move to the place where nothing needed to be hidden?
Hiding never made me a better teacher, a better collaborator, or a better friend. And by flipping my class, I was hiding. So now, all of those problems and that artifice is being purged - the intense pressure we've been under in the past few weeks has burned away everything unnecessary, leaving only what is actually me. That is a scary place to be, and it has been an extraordinarily painful and revealing process.
And through that process, the alchemy continued: my individuality, once revealed, did not drive Andrew's personality out; instead, finding what it means to be myself leaves much more room for him, both to find what it means to be himself, and for what it means for us as a collaborative partnership.
So I may not use the Zunin Reflective Pause, or the Genevieve Voice, or the I'm Drowning Please Save Me Colleague! mannerisms, but I've found the part of me contained in each of those positive thefts. Even the negatives were redeemed through this crucible: I've embraced the structure I learned at San Lorenzo without losing my vulnerability. I've accepted my own racial and educational background and the ways in which I am shaped by factors within and out of my control.
And I've continued down the flipped path with Andrew. And I still occasionally steal his quirks and phrasing, and I still regularly defer to him (because he's smarter than me!), and I enjoy being part of the team, rather than standing alone.
But there is a way to be a flipped teacher AND be myself. There is a way to be a Andrew's collaborative partner AND be myself. There is a way to embrace the things, both positive and negative, that I've experienced and yet move forward.
Because those things may explain me.
But I refuse to let them define me.
What defines me is deeper than what I do. What defines me is deeper than how I teach.
I am defined not by the experiences, the mistakes, the failures, the successes, the things I've done, the things done to me.
I am defined by the choices I make. By the person I am underneath all the artifice. By the communities and people I love and who love me.
And that is incredibly freeing.
***see tweets below for context.