“The match between a teacher candidate’s personal attributes, values, and dispositions and the demands of teaching.”
Many of us remember when we were children and played school with our siblings and friends. We imitated our teachers and early classroom experiences, hopeful that one day we could be the teacher standing in front of the class. Others don’t know until much later that their personality, interests and passions line up well with the profession of teaching. Regardless of the starting point, let’s look at what makes a person destined to become a teacher. When we talk about “goodness of fit” what qualities do we possess that match the demands of teaching?
At my kindergarten parent teacher conference, my teacher told my mother that I had been a good “teacher” to my twin brother who needed extra support at a young age. This early role of teacher to my twin may have indoctrinated me at a young age to the role of being a teacher. The qualities of assertiveness, direction and empathy were showing themselves early as I guided my brother at home and in school. I helped him with everything from life skills to academics. Becoming a teacher was somewhat of a foregone conclusion for me and many times over the years I recognized the “goodness of fit” for me in the profession.
When we brainstormed qualities of a good teacher in my introduction to teaching class at the University, many of my students mentioned the following qualities; good listener, kindness and empathy. Let’s unpack these three qualities to see if you have these qualities already.
- Good Listener: We noted how good listening is needed for teachers to “hear” students, parents and colleagues. Good listening is a skill one can cultivate and practice during every interaction in our day. One teaching conference I attended told us if we want to have a lot of friends, the key is becoming a good listener. Inherently, people want to talk about themselves, so finding a good listener is key to helping us feel valued and respected as people.
- Kindness: A student in my class shared a story of a kind teacher who would bring food and clothing to students who were in need. A kind teacher feels almost like a requirement for teaching and running a classroom. Many of us may be able to easily recall teachers who were not kind and wonder why they became teachers. Those unkind teachers certainly did not have the “goodness of fit” of great teachers and may have struggled along the way.
- Empathy: As an adult, I have run across more than a few people who are unable to share the feelings of others. When I encounter people, who lack empathy, I always pause and wonder how they are able to navigate through life without this important skill. Empathy is defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” Empathy is one of those basic skills we teach in preschool and kindergarten. If a student purposely or inadvertently knocks into another student, we get down to their level and help them understand how their friend may feel. Young children are inherently ego centric and unable to take another persons’ point of view. Many children with autism are unable to become empathetic due to their inability to take another person’s point of view. When we think of goodness of fit a teacher without empathy may never connect with their students. As public school teachers, we have the good fortune of teaching students from all races, backgrounds, religious and SES backgrounds. Although we may not share similar traits and backgrounds with our students, our ability to show empathy for a student who is homeless (for example) can help connect them to resources, provide support and validate their experiences.
When you think of yourself, do you possess these core qualities or can you imagine working to develop them over time? I am lucky to work with students and student teachers who are starting to look inside and evaluate if they have the “goodness of fit” to become teachers. This internal work of finding out who we are is vital because as Parker Palmer said “we teach who we are”. Finding out who we are takes us one step closer to deciding if teaching is the right fit for us.