The Teacher as…Narcissist?

I read a paper recently on the student teaching process–that is, the process by which students are transformed into teachers (you can read that paper here).  It’s a study that “describes the challenges and successes of student teachers in a high school setting as they shift from narcissistic student to other-centered teacher.”  I read that opening line in the paper’s abstract and felt immediately defensive.  I was NEVER a narcissistic student teacher.  Idealistic student teacher?  Yes.  Performance-driven and task-focused student teacher?  Of course.  Convinced that all of my bright ideas were going to work wonders and that I would forever change the world of education?  Well, I suppose I was, but that doesn’t mean–oh wait.

Crap.

I was a narcissist.

Full-fledged, no-kidding, in-love-with-my-own-reflection narcissist.

The question that popped into my head next was, did I ever get over it?  In other words, was I eventually cured of my narcissism, and is my current style of teaching truly “others-focused” rather than self-focused?  When I sit down to lesson plan, do I have my own agenda in mind, or do I think first of my students needs and give careful consideration to how I can reach them with the material they need to learn?

These are tough issues for a teacher to confront.  Teaching in and of itself is no cure for narcissism.  If you’re not a balanced person with somebody in your life to give you a major reality check now and then, you can quickly develop the notion that the world revolves around you.

Because if you’re a teacher, it kind of does.

Think about it.  We decide what’s going to happen in class each day; yes, there’s technically a curriculum, but ultimately WE’RE the curriculum.  We have a bunch of people sitting and listening to us and writing down what we say.  They have to remember what we say and repeat it to us on demand.

It can go to our heads really quickly.

In the evening, when my husband asks me how my day was, I find that I measure the success or failure of a day of teaching according to how well I thought I performed.  I think, “Oh, I was witty and really put-together in that class, so it was great” or “Oh I stumbled over my words and lost my place in the text in that class, so it was awful.”  I don’t often stop and measure my success by how much my students got out of class.  I really should.  I want to change that.  It really doesn’t matter if they learn from the book, from each other, from their own writing, or from me.  The point is that they learn.

I firmly believe that if we don’t take steps to check our narcissism, it can absolutely poison our teaching.  It’s something we have to constantly combat in order to stay fair, stay sane, and stay relevant.  I think being a student for the past two and a half years has given me a lot of empathy for my students, and there’s no cure for narcissism like empathy.  I’m also in this game because I love high school students, not just because I love English (although I DO love English!).

Yes, I’m aware of the irony of processing these thoughts (narcissistic-ally) on my blog.  However, I think there might be other teachers out there who could benefit from giving some thought to this same subject.  Teachers are often very isolated creatures (despite those brilliantly productive faculty meetings), and we need to know that we are not alone.

The thing about being a narcissist is that it’s hard to stay that way in a community of people who are constantly holding you accountable and giving you reality checks.

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3 thoughts on “The Teacher as…Narcissist?

  1. I can relate to this post, but from a student’s point of view, as i have never taught a class. You touched on interesting points right there. I’m going to generalize here without any leniency, because to understand how majority of a community thinks, you have to generalize umm.. stuff. Most of the students really ARE paying attention to HOW the teacher is teaching and not WHAT the teacher is teaching.

    Good students are smart enough to pick up WHAT the teacher is teaching, but the way of teaching gets to students more, especially students who aren’t phenomenal when it comes to studies, they comment more on how teacher talks, dresses, teaches etc. Which in turn makes the teacher more conscious of himself/herself.

    Back in times of my parents, it wasn’t only studies that a teacher was supposed to train a student for, teachers played an active role in the ethical build up of a student(s). Sadly, it’s not like that today, teach whatever there’s in the syllabus and you’re done. But if teachers opt to participate in other aspects of a student’s life, i think then their narcissism will decrease a little.

    As a student i observed this that being a teacher at least you’re accepting your narcissism and being honest about it :D. It means you aren’t totally concerned about yourself while studying, kudos for that. Thanks for providing an opportunity to express on this topic, and kudos to you for your insightful post.

    • I agree. I’d even go so far as to say that HOW you teach matters even more than WHAT you teach. And I think the best way to combat our weaknesses is to make sure that we are aware of them. Thanks for reading!

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