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Personality, Teacher Dispositions, and Schooling Context

I'm nearing the end of my winter break as a PhD candidate.  Winter and summer breaks provide me a little time to pick up a book to read something other than my field and research interests.  Sometimes these books are too close to my research interesta, and this leisure time turns into work.  Other times these books are not too close but close enough to inspire other research interests, and this is one of those times.

I am reading Multiplicity: The New Science of Personality, Identity, and the Self by Rita Carter.  Not only am I learning about myself, which I enjoy learning most about, but I am learning how ideas from this book can be applied to second language education.  The strongest linking idea that comes to mind is bicultural identity that some experience when they learn/acquire another language.  Since my research area is more on teacher education, I am thinking about how teachers develop a personality (best?) suited for their classroom.  I put "best" in parentheses because that is an area of research, teacher dispositions, that is in the peripheries of my interest that I may bring closer to the center once I complete my dissertation.

I like to think of myself, who has taught in different cultural and schooling contexts, in comparison to other teachers who have taught in fewer or maybe even one schooling context with questions about the major or dominant (but not essential as Carter points out in her book) personality of the teacher.  As a student, I had thought that many of my teachers carried their teacher personality beyond the classroom, and I couldn't imagine most people enjoying their company for too long.  I know some adults who believe this, and I could label this is as one stereotype of the teacher.

What comes first?  Do some people have a teacher's personality before they become teachers?  I doubt this except for maybe children of teachers.  With this thought I could make the bold assumption that this is why many teachers are children of teachers.

Although the idea in the previous paragraphs interest me, I am more interested in second language teachers.  Not only do they have to have a major or minor personality of a teacher, but it usually helps to have a major or minor personality of the culture represented by the language spoken.  Even if the teacher does not, many students may believe that the teacher contains some essential elements of that culture in his or her personality.  Now I'm entering the dangerous area of stereotypes, especially as I wrote "personality of the culture," as if there is only one.  But perhaps this "personality of the culture" is only found in an admiration for that culture.  And it is here, I am getting dangerously close to my dissertation topic in which some "native-speaking" English language teachers feel that they must represent certain stereotypes of their cultures.

I want to step away from that for now, and discuss another area of interest based on my experiences.  I have become a quick believer in Rita Carter's thesis on multiple identities, which alarms the skeptic in me.  (I haven't finished the book yet.)  Even this sentence preceding the parentheses demonstrates that I have a skeptic personality that argues strongly against me believing anything until I give it a thorough critical analysis.  I digress.

Looking back at my teaching career, I believe I have developed a few teacher personalities that worked in different cultures.  I found that as these personalities developed, they influence my personality outside the classroom as well, and perhaps vice-versa.  For example, I believe I was the most easy-going and silly in my first job in Japan.  This personality is still with me but is mostly isolated with my wife and daughter.

While I was in Korea, I took on a more responsible teaching position with a larger proportion of serious-minded students, so I became a more serious-minded teacher.  I have kept this personality attribute with me the longest.  My sense of humor was adjusted to be used as comic relief more than attracting students to learn English as it was in Japan, which was a relief to me.  I continued this seriousness tapered with comic relief in Russia, but the sense of humor in Russia is different from East Asia.  A sarcastic wit is more appreciated in Russia, and I was happy to get this chance to develop this skill, which I had to essentially drop when teaching in Japan.  In this sense, I felt that teaching in Russia was easier, although it really was one of the toughest jobs I had.

Then I returned to the United States to teach undergraduate international students in Wisconsin, which stressed me out more than I anticipated.  I didn't know which teaching personality to use since I had students from different cultures.  Should I be easy-going, silly, serious-minded, or sarcastic?  I chose serious-minded, which was mostly a mistake, and sarcastic, which rubbed a few students the wrong way.  For the first time in my teaching career, I felt like I trapped myself in this personality.  Why did I have this feeling?  I eventually became more easy-going, but many students remembered me as serious-minded, so I had to painfully wait out the first year.  However, my personality outside the class was more relaxed yet vibrant that it had been since teaching in Japan 10 years earlier; I felt like I was getting younger.  Was it because I was in my home country that I could more easily divide my work personality from my home personality?  I didn't associate the whole country with work, teaching English.

When I left Wisconsin, I felt more at ease with my new teacher personality, but it was time to be serious again as I became a PhD student in Iowa.  Although I was teaching for my first 3 years at Iowa, it wasn't English as a second language.  Being a PhD student and candidate is quite the mental exercise, not just academically but holistically, and this has made me feel older than I have ever felt.  My wife has commented that my personality has changed since we came to Iowa, which worries me.  Except for interacting with my daughter, I feel like I have been suppressing the more fun-loving vibrant personality for years.  I think everybody at the university only knows my diligent, serious-minded, ambitious personality that really did not exist/flourish prior to the 21st century.  But reading Multiplicity has given me hope that this stressed out personality will not last.  It also makes me question what type of teaching position I want for the future.  The position will definitely mold my personality.  I am definitely looking forward to a change that comes from both within and from the context around me.

Finally, another reason I like Carter's book is that I have always been aware of how the context influences my personality.  Part of my world-wide traveling has been a personal experiment to test my adaptability and growth.  I have had the privilege of being married to observe if my wife undergoes similar changes in personality.  I'm sure to write more about this as I read more and eventually finish the book.  Unfortunately, the semester begins within the week and I will have less time to read and write outside my dissertation and graduate assistantship.


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