But what if I don’t fit in?

28 July 2020 1 By miriam

Everyone knows at least one ‘superstar’ teacher. One of those who win popularity awards, one of those who are the life of the party, who easily lead conversations, and who seem to have the magic ability to make people gravitate towards them. The sort that manages to never run into trouble.

You don’t recognize yourself in this description? Oh, wait. You know what? Never mind. Me neither. Not all of us work this way, and that’s fine because we bring other qualities to the profession, right? Maybe you have a calm approach to teaching, and therefore help anxious or shy students to feel safe, and thereby create an environment that makes it easier for them to work in, that’s surely a positive, no?

Or perhaps you plan the most amazing lessons for your students, but no one ever notices, and that doesn’t matter, because you do it for them, and you love doing it, because you care, correct?

Maybe you are the kind of teacher that students feel comfortable opening up to, in a way they wouldn’t with other teachers. After all, we come with different personalities, strengths and skillsets. Just as our students, we are individuals, and not being a certain way doesn’t make us less valuable than our more outgoing colleagues, or does it? I find that especially very conservative school environments seemingly haven’t come to the conclusion yet that diversity is beautiful (even among staff) and that in many cases we are still expected to fit into a certain mould. Why is it that many schools still don’t embrace our different quirks and character traits, but instead expect uniformity of character from us? Isn’t it about time that we should be allowed to unapologetically be ourselves whilst doing an amazing job that we love, and truly feeling accepted? I think it is.

While luckily different genders, ethnicities and belief systems are finally widely recognised, accepted and sometimes even celebrated in schools, thanks to amazing activists who put a lot of energy into changing the landscape; it still looks different, when it comes to the otherness of the individual teacher, in my experience. Sometimes it takes a while to realise that we ended up in a place that actually doesn’t accept or appreciate us the way we are, which leaves us with two options: carry on and live with the consequences, or pretending to be someone we’re not, whilst hoping for the best. The question is: Is the second option always worth it? This is for you to decide. In an ideal world, teachers should have the same right to express themselves (within reason in a school setting) as the students, without fear of losing their jobs. But there are unspoken rules that are easy to break, especially as an unexperienced NQT on probation.

I know this is not the most uplifting post, and maybe you are lucky enough to disagree with its content, but it needed to be written and was actually inspired by a tweet that did not address otherness per se, but being an introvert. In it, the author asked how to deal with being an introverted teacher in an environment where everyone seems to easily fit in, be upbeat and extroverted. Let me know of your experiences in the comments, I am excited to read what you have to share.