Types of Teachers

What type of teacher are you? The “Trying to Be Cool” teacher? The “Important Authority Figure”? In this light-hearted yet thought-provoking talk, Jeff Swanson caricatures some common teacher types and encourages teachers to grow toward personal and professional maturity.

Your students know if you care, and I think they know if you don’t care, and I think they know if you don’t care and you try to fake it. Their radars are pretty good with that. So I would encourage you to do everything you can to prepare to care for them and to be a blessing.

All right, types of teachers. You can’t pigeonhole everybody. These are a little bit caricatures, but I want you to think about them because you may fit into one of these and you don’t think you do. All right, I have, and I ain’t going to tell you which ones. So, um, kind of making light of some things that we want to avoid and then some of these that I hope that we can all grow into as we mature.

“Trying to Be Cool”

The “Trying to Be Cool” teacher. It’s important to them to be relevant to the student. And this is not a thing for 22-year-olds or 18-year-olds. Oftentimes it’s 30, 35, 40, where we start feeling like, “Well I kinda would still like to be kinda cool.”

You’re not.

And so we’re kind of relevant. Some problems with it, and you know what it is, so you dress like it was cool when you were cool 20 years ago. I’m not trying to teach you how to be cool, but not only are you not, but students are like, “This is really awkward. If you’d just be a man or a lady.”

Part of this is oftentimes these kind of teachers have short lived popularity. They need to be very popular for three weeks of school, and then something just clicks, and it’s not that attractive to students, really. I’ve noticed that these kind of teachers can gain classroom management quickly because the students think they’re pretty cool, and then after two or three weeks, you’re pretty cool, doesn’t help them to know when they can or can’t talk or when they can or can’t do anything. And then it’s a nightmare, and they don’t favor that teacher anymore.

“Trying to Be Just Like a Student”

So teacher B is “Trying to Be Just Like a Student.” This is different than trying to be cool. Remember, even if you’re an 18-year-old teacher, the students probably view you more closer to the age of their parents than you realize. They really do.

My band director who I loved in high school, he was about 28 years old. I was 14. My parents were 34, 36 years old, and I was pretty sure they were all the same age. Think about that. I added eight years to the guy’s life. They were just all adults.

So I know some of us think, “I’m 28, I’m young.” Students are looking at you thinking, “You’re 28, whoa.” Know what I mean?

You’re old. And so I just wouldn’t worry about it.

It’s tempting sometimes even for older adults to try to dress and act like students and do the things that they do. Remember when you were that age, which is such a valuable resource: remember what you did. Oftentimes they’re doing things because the other students are doing it. Not really because they even think it’s that cool. That’s what you do.

And so I think there’s some destabilizing effect for them trying to see adults try to be like they are when they’re being like they are, just to fit in, and they might just hate it.

So my band director, he was 28, which in my mind, honestly, he was the same age as my parents. He showed up once, there was a musical performance, and we saw him, and it was outside, and he came up, and it was in the mid- eighties, and he had these super long short pants, and that’s what people wore, and he said something about it. He said, “Do you like my short pants?” We didn’t say that. We would of just said shorts. And I just was thinking, “I can’t believe he did that.” And it wasn’t immodest or anything. I mean, they were longer than short shorts or whatever, but I mean, he was trying to look young, and I just remember thinking—I loved him, I still do, I love all my teachers—and I just think I thought, “This is just weird. Why is he doing that?” I was really disappointed. It kind of took him down a few levels because he was really trying to be relevant that way.

Anyways, my children—and you don’t need to try to guess who I’m talking about. I’ve taught in a Baptist school, a non-Anabaptist evangelical Baptist school. I’ve taught in Mennonite schools, I’ve taught in a Beachy school, I taught in a Charity school, and now I teach in a school where we have everything. We represent about 30 different churches, Mennonite denominations, and about seven or eight different Mennonite denominations within the 30 churches.

So don’t try to guess.

So my children said once they had a chapel and a teacher got up and started talking about how young he was and how he was actually closer in age to the students than he was to the rest of the teachers. And he was very relevant with technology, and he said, “I’m just like ya’ll. I have Instagram.” So we all have Instagram, okay? And Facebook. And he went down the list of things, and my children came home just like “I just can’t believe he said that. Why was he trying to show us that he was just like a student?” And honestly, if he was two years older than them, they probably thought he was 22 or 23 until that.

So if you are one of those adults that can be relevant just because you are, then that’s one thing, but don’t try it. Don’t try to be just like a student.

“Trying to Be an Important Authority”

“Trying to Be an Important Authority.” This is the person that’s like, “I am a professor.” And you can tell when you meet them that they’re the professor. They’re smart and you’re dumb. I mean, just simple things that they say in life are just “I’m smart.” It’s all with authority. And they tend to view teaching as an opportunity to be in charge of other people and to be important. And they want to appear very wise, but then they’re like it’s like a sage, like just this wise old person and that’s like their thing.

Why would you want to do that?

It’s very important that you view them as smart and they use big words to try to impress you. Have you ever known somebody who was truly intelligent, that was really smart? And they didn’t use big words and you can just tell it as soon as they open their mouth: this person is really quite brilliant. And they don’t try to use words or use fancy words wrong. Makes it worse.

“The Flirt”

The next one tends to be a guy, doesn’t have to be is “The Flirt.” And I don’t want to make light of this one. It’s “creepy teacher” and I don’t think you realize this, why it’s happening. And I put this somewhere else. Anyways.

This very well could be the first time, when a guy teaches, that women have ever paid him any attention in his life. Suddenly you’re in charge and you’re the teacher and you’re speaking and girls are looking at you.

In some ways you can make it humorous. I just don’t think guys process it all. And I think it can lead to irreverent, probably at first, for sure, accidental behavior or something like that. We’re going to actually talk about this more specifically.

So I just put: don’t sit with girls. Don’t sit with girls. I don’t like to sit with lady teachers. It’s just weird and inappropriate anyways. Don’t ever be in a closed room. Billy Graham Rule. We’ll talk about that in a minute. People are watching you. Even if you feel like you’re keeping it professional, when you talk to the same person over and over about school, it’s awkward and it’s just not right. And it’s, I think, pretty hard to shake that image even if you mend your ways.

“The Mature, Secure, Stable Human Being”

“The Mature, Secure, Stable Human Being.”

Usually interesting people. It can take a little while of maturing to get to be that way because you do want to work through being cool, being like a student, the important authority guy—if you are a flirt than that.

So at one point in my life I was like cooler than I am now. Don’t laugh, okay? I was. All right, I was in my early thirties, and I really thought I knew how to relate to students and young people better than people that were older than me. And I was a music teacher and I dressed a little bit cool. Don’t mock me, okay? I’m just saying. And so I noticed that sometimes I had one or two students, like drop my class for this other teacher that was about 45 years old, little man beard, kind of nerdy hair, if you know what geek hair is, and soft spoken. He’s very, very intelligent and he taught advanced math and he taught psychology. And I’m just thinking I’m the one that kind of–forgive me. Okay, I don’t think like this. It was a long time ago and I just thought, “Why are they going to his class? I’m like cool and I’m more relevant than he is.”

And I thought about that for years and it just makes perfect sense to me. He’s a stable guy. He could be most of those students’ dad’s age. He was interesting. He’s pretty caring. I remember observing a class of his, it was an advanced math class, and the students were all talking, talking a lot, talking a lot, talking a lot. And he went up in front of class and he went there and he said, “Okay, we’re going to start class now, if you can open your book.” And it was silent.

That’s awesome. To me, that’s more than having a class silent when you walk in there the whole time–is if they can talk and if there’s enough respect and culture there, that when you start talking, it’s done. I’ve striven for that actually, in our high school.

So just think about that. It’s interesting. It’s kind of a dad. I think it would be a goal for us men to be at some point in your career, a big brother and work on our way when you’re 35 or older, really to be the dad.

And the ladies, the same thing. They’re your little sisters. Even if you’re in the same youth group and you’re their teacher. Big sisters. And then if you’re still teaching, ladies, and you’re a career teacher, the mom figure—it’s a blessing to be that way.

“The Youth Counselor”

Okay, “I Want to Be Your Best Friend” / “Youth Counselor.” In the 1990s and 2000s, evangelicals really got into this culture of youth pastor and youth pastors were very charismatic and it’s still around and I think it’s crept into our cultures a little bit. Younger people with young families, a lot of mentoring. Mentoring is good. It just needs to be structured and mentors need to have mentors.

And so they were adults that were pretty cool. Spending an inordinate amount of time probably with young people and I’ve seen that sometimes even in our schools.

And so what that can cause is that the teacher that does this and the students that he’s involved with kind of view themselves as cooler than everybody else and cool becomes a big deal. And it’s hard to relate finally to that teacher’s authority because the relationship was built on that and then really hard to relate to other teachers who are just normal trying to do their thing.

My students are my friends. I don’t tell them that until they graduate. My children are my best friends in the whole world. Even when they’re like five. Some people say they’re not their friends until they graduate. I just don’t tell them that. But they are. We just love them. And I love my children so much. My biological children, I love them and they’re my friends. So, yeah, our students are our friends.

But the best friend thing, that’s just not appropriate, I think, when you’re their teacher.

“I Make Fun of Mennonites”

The “I Make Fun of Mennonites Guy.” You’ve probably heard of teachers that are just getting a little frustrated with our culture so they make fun of Mennonites to the students.

So I’ll bring up the second point first. You probably shouldn’t be teaching Mennonites because you don’t like Mennonites. Right?

That’s funny. Why is he here?

Second one is, I mean, there’s a teacher and he just kept giving digs at the plain suit, digging at the plain suit, digging at our culture. And the crazy thing is, some of the youth that were in a part of—well I won’t tell you, don’t want to give anything away—but anyways but I knew some of these youth, even some of the cooler youth that might not have been huge plain suit fans, they’re kind of offended that their teacher was just giving those digs to plain suits.

We get so whacked out comparing ourselves with the world. If you’re a worldly person, it’s like cool to wear a plain suit. It like always has been. That’s like what famous people do. But we look at it and think, well, we have to. And so the whole thing, just wear the thing. Anyways.

So we just shouldn’t give digs at our own culture like that. That’s a terrible thing. I understand other digs, if you’re in a school and you don’t like the curriculum for whatever reason, just don’t do digs to our culture. We’re here to build up a culture that I think is a beautiful thing that we have.

And the last one—the outline I gave you is like five days old. Teachers edit these things until like an hour ago. My notes have more than yours.

“The Cheerleader”

“The Cheerleader.” Just be a cheerleader. Can you think of a blessing? I realized that we don’t want to make our students all proud by blessing them. I’d rather bless my students. I just love them. Especially since I get to teach K-12 every day. Especially those little ones. Just bless them.

Our students at Shalom wear uniform. So all I’ve got to bless them on is the girls, how they braid their little hair, the guys and their little belts, and their shoes, and their watches, and the girls and their shoes. And I love shoes anyways.

Be a cheerleader. Tell them how much you like what they do. It’s okay. I really don’t think that’s going to make them egomaniacs. I just think it’s nice.

Isn’t it nice when somebody says something nice to you? It feels good to me. If I get a bad note from a child and I can’t tell what the writing is and I don’t know what the picture is that they drew, my day is made. That’s it. It is made. I got something—a piece of candy on there, a poorly colored picture of a horse. My day is made. It’s so nice.

Think Barnabas the encourager. Can we be that way to every single student you have? Every single day? Even the cool, tall basketball guys. It feels good.

I had one guy I told him—I love shoes. I like Vans. Childhood thing. Anyways, and Converse. And I just said, “You got Vans on. That looks nice.” And he told me years later, he said, “I felt like I was on cloud nine because you said that to me.”

And I really meant it. I really do like Vans. I don’t like Dude shoes as much, so I won’t say that, but they’re interesting. But you know.

I had no idea it impacted this guy. He said, “I felt so good.” That was the first day of school. “You found me and you met me and you said you like that so.”

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