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.
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.