Just Be Yourself · 22 June 2007

When I was student teaching at Central Valley High School in Spokane, I had two master teachers, Dick O’Brien and Dennis McGuire. They were veteran teachers who showed me how to teach and because of the teaching program I was in, I was with them for more than a year. It was a great time and I learned a lot from Dick and Dennis. They showed me how to teach math and physics. They showed me how they interacted with the students. But the best lesson that they both kept giving me was to be myself.

I have always thought that being myself was the best thing to do in any situation but when I got my own classroom, I still tried to emulate some of the things that Dick and Dennis did. That did not work out so well.

Dick started each of his classes with a short monologue. He was great at it and the kids responded well. They learned a lot from him and part of that was because he helped them focus on math by getting them to relax before they started on the lessons of the day. When Dick did a monologue, he got giggles and laughs. He also got the students’ attention.

The first time I tried to do a monologue, I failed miserably. Even today, when I try to tell a joke, I only get groans from my students. Which is okay when that is what I want to accomplish. But after just one time trying to emulate Dick, I decided starting the class with a monologue was not for me.

Dennis had his own version of a monologue. He had a great rapport with his students and usually singled somebody out for praise or a bit of ribbing in the beginning of class. The compliment or teasing was like Dick’s monologue, it helped the students to relax. The target of the attention was always ready to learn. Especially, when Dennis mentioned some achievement. Regardless of how minor.

I try to recognize my students in simple ways too. Like Dennis, I enjoy teasing the students to help them to relax and get ready to learn. I just do it in my own way.

Besides their opening, Dick and Dennis liked to tell jokes to their students any time it fit into the flow of the class. They had their unique senses of humor and timing but they almost always got the responses they wanted from their students – hardy laughs or groans. Whichever was applicable or desired.

I like jokes but I can not tell them. I can remember the setup or the punch line but as Rudyard Kipling said, “…never the twain shall meet.” I can not remember what joke goes with what punch line. So the way I get my students to laugh and relax is with self-deprecating humor. I put myself down so that they realize I do not have all the answers. I help them see me as just an ordinary guy who happens to be a teacher so that they can learn more from me than just how to work with computers. I help them open up to me by making myself more vulnerable to them. That works for me and for them. The students know that it is okay to laugh at themselves because I can laugh at myself. And apparently, that helps the students learn.

I learned much about teaching from my master teachers, Dick and Dennis. I learned about teaching and how to keep control of the classroom. I learned about relating to kids. But mostly, I learned that I had to find my own way and be my own person to succeed as a teacher. I learned that I did not need to have a teacher persona and a personal persona. I learned that I could be a successful teacher by just being myself. I hope that I am giving that same message to my students that I got from Dick and Dennis. I hope my students are learning to just be themselves.

© 2007 Michael T. Miyoshi

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