The Authentic Educator

Complete this four-step activity to rediscover your own motivational “sweet spot” and grow as an educator.

By Matthew Spinogatti

Teacher reflecting

As educators, what do we need in order to teach? Do we need a classroom? No, the physical education teachers often don’t have classrooms, and their kids learn every day. Well, we definitely need desks and a whiteboard, right? No, there are kids all over the world sitting on the floor, and I am sure it is not infringing on their ability to learn. I know! Computers, we definitely need to have computers and LCD projectors. Wait, how did people learn before computers? I think my teachers used something called chalk that would leave streaks across their slacks.

My computer is a piece of junk, and the light bulb on my LCD projector burned out. The desks in my classroom are wobbly and some even have inappropriate language written on them. The chairs have cracks that snag girls' hair and I always seem to be one textbook short. “You two share.”

Is any of this really necessary? At the root of our educational system, we really only need two things: those who teach, and those who learn. This can happen anywhere, anytime. Regardless of modern day gadgets and devices, learning is always possible. This is not to say that it cannot be enhanced by certain tools or resources; but as those tools and resources become more abundant or complex, it becomes more important to focus on who we are as authentic educators.

The Contemporary Educational System

It is clear that education is changing. Students are changing, learning styles are changing, and, because of technology, we are seeing research that supports the idea that our brains are actually changing. It is important now more than ever to ask ourselves: what does it mean to be an educator?

There are many systems in place for professional reflection, and always a new set of data to examine, but eventually it becomes important to reflect on your own motivation and what role you, as an educator, are really playing in the classroom. One of the biggest dangers in our profession is becoming the teacher who refuses to change, refuses to adapt, or refuses to meet the students half-way.

Get Out the Pen and Paper

This simple exercise can provide some major insights. Keep it close, make notes, and recreate as needed.

1. What are your intrinsic motivators? This is your passion and your drive. Why did you originally became an educator (I am assuming here that the decision was not financial)? Examples may include the desire to help others, your own love of learning, or even just the joy you get in watching children learn.

2. What are you extrinsic motivators? What are your responsibilities and obligations? Examples include having health insurance, supporting a family, or even having money to buy new clothes.

3. What are your strengths? What are you already good at? Examples may include classroom management, lesson planning or curriculum design, or caring for your students.

4. What are your weaknesses? We all have room for improvement and these items should not be ignored. Write them down so they can be addressed and you can grow as an individual. Examples include incorporating media, updating old lessons, time management, or assessment strategies.

The place where these four categories meet is your “sweet spot.” It explains why you do what you do, what drives you to get out of bed in the morning, what you do well, and what you are working on. These four simple categories can help in understanding who you are as an authentic educator. With this understanding, you can build a foundation, and as a result, growth can occur.

Additional Resources

Teachers Never Stop LearningAddress Potential Gaps in CommunicationKeep Those Students Engaged