When boundaries don’t protect

May 20th, 2013 | Filed under: teaching

I’ve begun reading What You Know by Heart by Katie Wood Ray. It was a glorious feeling to crack open a new professional book and not feel guilty that I should be working on my master’s degree. Many of my colleagues have asked me how it feels to be “finished” with such an undertaking and I often can’t tell a major difference in my life. However, it is in these small moments – such as opening a book that has been gathering dust on my shelf and piquing my curiosity – that I can tell that I’m done.

I’m only in the first chapter, but so far Ray has provoked my thinking with rhetorical questions about how much I let my students see of my “human side.” She is discussing the human side of writing – the feelings that are evoked during the process of writing – and how important it is to let students see this. It got me thinking about the human side of our teaching selves in general.


Photo CC-licensed by Flickr user exfordy.

In my first real teaching gig, I didn’t let students see my human side. I had been told how important it was to be strict and to not make friends with students and to wear high-heels because I was smaller than the students (seriously). I took on a persona that smiled and welcomed students into the room, but that didn’t warm up to them for fear of letting them get too close. I had been advised to be suspect of students and their friendly nature – that they would take advantage of me. I had my guard up. They saw straight through it and could feel the burn of that suspicion. They could see that I wasn’t being honest with them about who I was and to this day it is a great regret.

I am not the stern, strict teacher that people said I should have been. I am fair and have high expectations, certainly, but I’m more of a nerdy, self-deprecating, funny weirdo. I hid that part of myself from those students in the first year and as a result, never connected with them. Now that I am letting myself be myself in the classroom, I have deeper connections with my students than ever before. I tell them about my personal life and show them pictures of my cats. They know I have a boyfriend and a little brother. They know I like cooking. I’ve revealed my human side in an appropriate way without compromising my professionalism and I am a better teacher – and person – because of it.

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4 Comments on “When boundaries don’t protect”

  1. 1 Guadalupe J. Prince said at 5:11 am on June 23rd, 2013:

    Why isn’t something so fundamental self-evident? Because the human intellect is a relativity machine. It compares one thing relative to another thing, one moment relative to another moment. We end up fixating on the forms of things and situations and see them as connected in a linear, rational sense. This isn’t necessarily incorrect. As Carl Jung put it: “Form gives energy its quality.†However, Carl Jung, on a visit to the American Southwest in the fifties, had a transformative conversation with a Hopi native. The elder told him the white man was restless and “mad†because white people think with their heads, whereas the Hopi think with their hearts. This conversation profoundly influenced Jung’s philosophy of life. It helps us see that there can be a form of intelligence that has nothing to do with thinking, and this is being expressed by the intelligent ways that dogs adapt to human civilization.

  2. 2 Jamie Baxter said at 5:27 am on September 5th, 2013:

    My biggest fear of when I become a teacher is knowing how close I should get to my students. I always thought that comes with experience, and with your experience, I realize it does come with experience.

    Your post has inspired me to just be myself, let my students know some of my personal interest, but do not tell them everything detail of my life. I probably would have done the same thing you did when you went into your first class, and put a guard up. Children are smarter then we think, and they can figure out we are not being ourselves.
    Great Post!

  3. 3 Linda Check said at 6:38 pm on October 13th, 2013:

    Hello! I have always been told that I am a pushover. People joke that when I finally get into a classroom, my students will run the class, not me. I have a fear that there is some truth in this, so during my classroom observations I try to be guarded with my true personality around the students. I know there is a boundary that you have to create when you are a teacher and I am scared to death of crossing that boundary. As you said, though, I think the best teachers are ones that show their human side to the students, but in an appropriate way.

  4. 4 Shanda Thornton said at 8:59 pm on November 20th, 2013:

    Hi Mary!

    Thank you for sharing this post, it is very helpful to future educators! I do believe teachers should get to know their students and be themselves in the classroom. You mentioned that your first year students could tell you weren’t being honest with them or being who you actually were. That is a grey area that we will all have to deal with at some point or another. If we can’t teach our students to be themselves no matter what they are facing, I don’t think we have done them justice. I like your comment about what you were told to be like in your first year.

    I am a substitute teacher, and I do believe there is a difference in the ages of the students. I believe you could be open and personal with all students, but more or less, I think in older grade levels, you may should keep an understanding of “I am your teacher, not your friend” and then as they understand that statement, I believe there would be a mutual respect formed in the classroom. Just my personal thoughts. Thanks for Sharing!

    Shanda Thornton, EDM310
    University of South Alabama

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