I must admit that I’ve always struggled with being humble. That’s why there’s nothing quite like a good shot to the ego.
We live in a time when social media allows us to carefully sculpt extremely controlled narratives of ourselves. Facebook profile pictures capture our best angles and snapchat stories narrate the parts of our lives that we hope for others to see. Moreover, what worth would an Instagram post have without a witty hashtag?
Fortunately, teaching forces us out of that comfortable shell.
My first months of teaching felt much like a social media presence. Everything you do is recorded; everything is up for scrutiny. I would often worry about the color of my dress shirt, if my voice would accidentally crack, or if my colleagues would accept me for who I am. I might’ve been the teacher, but I felt like I was a freshman all over again. I was on stage for all to see.
I remember students asking about my personal life. I would always answer with a sardonic, “I can’t remember!” I would worry about how they felt about me: “Do they respect me?” “Do they think I’m a good teacher?” Even, “Can they tell that I had no idea what I was talking about for those last ten minutes?” I saw no evidence to ease any of these anxieties as I often looked over a class of silent, inquisitive pupils.
But students–no matter who they are–can detect inauthenticity from miles away.
Further into the year (when I had less time to worry about how I presented myself), my relationships with students deepened as they developed into something more real. But it wasn’t until I was willing to open myself up and tear down the barriers that I constructed that I was able to get to know the students better. How could I expect students to open up to me if I was never willing to open up to them?
So I stopped caring.
I didn’t stop caring about my vocation. I stopped caring about the fake aura I was constantly trying to construct around me. I did away with presenting myself as a specific “somebody” when I showed my silly side to dress up as Jean Valjean from Hugo’s “Les Miserables” for Halloween. I eschewed my stoicism for my passion for that very musical. I stopped pretending that I didn’t even know what Snapchat was by taking a selfie with my students’ parents at Back-to-School Night. I even – despite being a born-and-raised Clevelander – showed up to school the day after the Cleveland Indians blew a 3-1 lead in the World Series (I teach in the literal heart of Chicago Cubs country). Ok – maybe I still care about that one.
Anyway, the point is that after surrendering myself to whom I actually am, students trusted me more. A good shot to the ego, showing vulnerability, and showing who you truly are reminds students that you’re human, too. At the end of the day, you’re no different from them.
Constructing false images of ourselves – whether through Facebook, twitter, or, even teaching – ends up going against what God had in store for us to begin with. We are called to be zealous people regardless of who we are, and in the words of Blessed Basil Moreau, being zealous means “making God known, loved, and served.” We can’t show God to our students when we betray the image of who He made us to be to begin with. Rather, God calls us to be in partnership with them. This hope, though, can only be accomplished through humility alone.
Interested in learning more about ACE Teaching Fellows? Visit ace.nd.edu/teach for more information.