Ask a Teacher: On Being in Charge
Q: Do you like being in charge of a class? Do you feel like it makes you bossy in other aspects of your life?
A: I like being in charge of class, absolutely.
While this might conjure (or confirm) images of a power-drunk tyrant whose goal is to revel in his own glory, the truth is less dramatic. While I do enjoy reveling in my own glory, it’s more of a private hobby than a teaching practice, and honestly, for me, the worst part about teaching is when I have to be bossy. When I have to straight-up lecture, grade papers, and make lesson plans, I still get a little sick to my stomach, because these totally necessary things force me to be a little tyrannical. There’s no democracy in grading, you dig? You can have ongoing discussions with students and offer some flexibility, but at the end of the day, certain things don’t happen by committee: they are decided on once and for all by Mr. Jung The Brutal, pitiless usurper of classroom A32.
Despite these tasks, however, I am not a tyrant. On my worst days I’m a benevolent dictator, but what I really want to be is a moderator, because that’s when I truly like being in charge of a class.
In other words, I like being in charge of a class because I think that if I do it right, I can fade into the background and watch students take the reins, while whispering quietly to myself, “Good job, old sport.” Most teachers, myself included, want to watch students learn by themselves. Self-directed education is really the goal of teaching, so think about the weird position your teachers might find themselves in: taking charge in order to efface themselves. As a teacher, the less your class needs you, the better you are doing. Other jobs are all about making oneself indispensable. Teaching is just the opposite. So, if I can set up some good structures and contexts and ways of discussing things that really get people talking, and let me step out of the way, then I feel like I’ve been a good "boss."
Don’t get me wrong, some teachers probably like being in charge of the classroom because it gives them some authoritarian thrill. But I don’t think it’s too many. The real megalomaniacs are savvy enough to choose careers that will actually render them money and real power. Teachers, for the most part, are pretty giving people that only impose themselves when they think it’s necessary (and sometimes it is—that’s how managing groups of people works).
And to answer your second question, I do sometimes worry about being bossy outside of class. Not in the sense of telling people to do something or else I’ll fail them for the semester (my fiancée in particular does not respond well to that), but more in that I sometimes catch myself switching into lecture mode during casual conversations, where I’m "teaching" someone something, and really, they should be paying me to do that. Big time.
Mr. Jung teaches college writing in Chicago, where he lives with his fiancée and their growing collection of street maps.
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Have you ever had a teacher who loves being in charge a little too much?