Put Away the Mortarboard
Here's what I'm learning about teachers. We REALLY like to be smart. This makes sense, I guess. We chose teaching because we liked school, right? Surprisingly, many of us were TERRIBLE students. And some of us are trying to take another crack at the whole thing by going back to teach. One of my former "nightmare" students came back to teach at his old high school and became a talented, enthusiastic colleague.
But for the most part, we all have experience being smart, having answers, coming up with the right quip. And here's the unfortunate part of that. Since we tend to be learn-ed, we go into most situations wanting to share that knowledge...to TEACH, not to LEARN. But when we are trying to connect with people and strengthen relationships, it's best to LISTEN and LEARN. By staying in teaching mode, we ensure that the other person knows how SMART we are, but that doesn't mean they want to spend time with us.
Ever since I figured this out, I've become painfully aware of those times when I share absolutely RIVETING factoids like why cashews never have shells or what the Teapot Dome scandal was all about...How could anyone NOT want to know those things? And wouldn't they think I'm GREAT for sharing?
I think we see information as our currency and we like to show it off. When we can't, we can become paralyzed. It's tough for teachers to risk being ignorant or appear "stupid." Yet that's when people love us the most -- when we share our vulnerabilities and risk failure.
More than a decade ago at a teacher's union convention, I was walking down the long, long lobby of the New Orleans Convention Center and it seemed that everyone I saw was overweight. REALLY overweight. Stress. A sedentary lifestyle. No time for self-care. I know there are a lot of reasons for teachers to be overweight. But I came away with the feeling that their extra pounds were also a form of armor, protecting them from pain, risk, and, unfortunately, other people.
Hey! I've been there. As a fat kid, I used my intelligence and humor to fend off attacks and, later, teaching gave me an outlet for my passion for learning. It also gave me a sense of control, responsibility, and authority. Not bad ingredients for a career, but useless for building relationships.
Genuine connection means taking off the armor, getting close, being open, humble, and even foolish. That's no easy lesson to master.