In the Classroom
Weird but Not Too Weird
February 5, 2018
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Leticia Skae

Is teaching a science? An art? Or a craft? Can it be a little bit of all of those things? My husband is an executive principal, and we often brainstorm ways to solve educational problems regularly. It is quite possibly our favorite pastime. But when discussed what makes a great teacher, he explained his hiring process to me. When he interviews a teacher he is looking for a teacher that is “weird but not too weird.” (A philosophy that I’m sure he uses even in love).

Honestly though, this philosophy makes sense. Teaching is a combination of great days and stressful days, accomplishment and regret, confusion and clarity, stagnation and determination. No day is the same. No class is the same and with all of these variables a teacher needs flexibility, even quirks to get them through the struggles of teaching. As my husband explains, a teacher who is “weird but not too weird” has the perfect balance between captivating and inspiring students while also managing the bureaucracy of education. You need to be a little odd to be able to manage the stresses of education while also innovating in the classroom. I couldn’t agree more. Here is where the philosophy of “weird but not too weird” has worked for me.  

Stand Out – What makes you different? Think about your best qualities and zone in. Do students remember the teachers that sat behind their desks, monotonously flipping through PowerPoint slides, assigning classwork while kids sat silently, never even noticing their students?  Or do students remember the teachers that made school memorable – teachers that empowered students to be themselves and celebrate one another? Every year I dress up for every school spirit event; from spirit week to Friday sporting events, I represent my school pride. I model for my students that I’m willing to look funny to support my school. So much so that I won Teacher with the Most School Spirit two years in a row, and the students know how dedicated I am to the school because they voted for the award. Essentially, I am modeling how one should appreciate one’s uniqueness, for my students, and that’s what makes me different and I hope that my students embrace that kind of spirit as well.

Be the Best Version of Yourself – When teachers struggle with ways to manage their classes I often hear them say “But that’s not the type of teacher I am.” I totally understand that struggle, and I have been there once before. But figure out what kind of teacher you are capable of being and aim for that. I’m not inherently strict or even bossy; honestly, I’m very quirky—cracking jokes daily is a must. But when it comes to running my classroom I have effective practices that show students that rigor is an expectation and that structure is imperative. Within all of my classrooms, learning is the most important part of the experience, but how we learn is where students understand “the type of teacher I am.” Students often think my class is fun, even though I have a reputation for giving students challenging assignments.

Laugh a little or a lot – Teaching is stressful. Most of the time we find ourselves bogged down with grading papers, answering emails, correcting behaviors, meeting with parents, going to trainings, etc. All of these things add tension to a teacher’s day, and those aren’t even the main focus of a teacher’s day…the actual teaching. So, I suggest you laugh as much as you can. Did you accidentally spell something incorrectly on the board and the kids corrected it? Laugh it off. Did you accidentally slip in class? Make a joke of it, giggle and continue teaching. You’d be surprised how much your students will appreciate seeing a smile on your face; I believe it eases their subconscious. My first year teaching in Nashville I was working in one of our district’s most challenging middle schools and I was exerting plenty of energy being an authoritative teacher in my classroom but every day I was exhausted, and my students weren’t as engaged as I wished they were. When I went to my night class I told my professor about my issues and he simply said, “Are you using your best talents while teaching?” I was confused. “What talents?” I asked. “Your humor.” After hearing that I immediately reconfigured my classroom and my teaching philosophy. Work hard and then play. I realized that I wanted my students to learn but also enjoy my class. My classroom was still highly structured but I allowed myself to be human in front of my students. Sometimes I even made jokes about literacy and cracked myself up, while the kids rolled their eyes. Regardless, they enjoyed the more jovial side of me and I began finishing the days less exhausted. So much of what happens to us, we cannot control but we can control how we react. So whenever possible, choose to laugh.

These are three steps that worked well for me. “Weird but not too weird” can look different to other teachers, though, especially when teaching in different subjects and grade levels. So, what does “weird but not too weird,” look like to you?

Leticia Skae is a Literacy Teacher Development Specialist in Nashville, TN. This is her 12th year in education and she specializes in diverse and urban education and earned her master’s degree in education from Vanderbilt University. She is currently in MTSU’s Literacy Studies Ph.D. program. She was a finalist in her district for Middle School Teacher of the Year 2017-2018 and a Blue Ribbon Teacher in 2016. Leticia has served on MNPS’ Transition Team, Mayor Barry’s Teacher Cabinet. She is an advocate for improving sociocultural perspectives in education and for teacher retention and teacher empowerment. Some of her hobbies include reading, writing, spending time with her family and tweeting. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.

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