In one of my courses, we’re writing reference letters for fictional characters. In addition, as a possible blog assignment, I suggested students write reference letters for themselves, imagining they’re applying for their dream job and giving an honest assessment of their strengths and weaknesses. It made me think about how I would assess my strengths and weaknesses as a teacher – and as a person, for that matter.
My biggest flaw (and I have thousands) is irritability. I get annoyed even with people I love, people whom I know have the best of intentions. When someone interrupts me when I’m talking, or hogs the spotlight, or expresses him/herself in a way that’s less than clear, I turn bitterly cold and sometimes shut down completely. This seriously bruises my relationships with my students and others.
Student: Miss, what were you saying about that thing? That talk?
Me: “Talk?” [Long pause] [Note: I know what the student is referring to.]
Student: You said something about … a talk, you said … we have to do something.
Me: When did I say this? Today? Last week? What exactly did I say? I need more information here.
Student: Never mind. Forget it.
Me: Would you like some coffee?
Mother-in-law: Well…you always make your coffee very strong.
Me: Yes, we do. [Long, long pause.]
Mother-in-law: Maybe you could add some water to mine?
Me: So you’d like some? Certainly.
I’m not suggesting that teachers, or people, should always be friendly and sweet. However, irritation can be mean, and its primary goal is to make the receiver feel bad. (The ultimate objective is to change the receiver’s behaviour, but it is not a good method for doing so.) I struggle with this in the classroom, in my marriage, in my friendships, and in my interactions with grocery store cashiers and people who walk too slowly in the metro tunnels. It tires me out and in makes me an a**hole.
What about you? Do you have character traits that make your job, or your life, more difficult? Have you done anything to change them?
Image by Michal Zacharzewski