10 Fundamental Teacher Archetypes

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As every language arts teacher knows, all the best fairytales are populated by a cast of archetypical characters: the Hero, the Love Interest, the Sidekick, the Villain.  Along the same lines, having watched the parade of teachers come and go through our building over the years, I've identified 11 Teacher Archetypes.  Though of course many teachers possess elements of several different Types at once, I bet teachers reading this list will instantly identify examples of each of these Types among their colleagues past and present.

Please enjoy this deliberately irreverent, tongue-in-cheek overview of Teacher Archetypes, and feel free to comment if I've overlooked any of your personal favorites!
  1. The Cheerleader. Cheerleaders are the True Believers - the ones who are so passionate about their calling that they'd be teachers even if they weren't earning those sky-high salaries. Idealists and visionaries, they believe that Children Are The Future and, therefore, teachers are the shapers and molders of the future, through the knowledge and values that they pass onto their students in the classroom. Cheerleaders endeavor to inspire a like passion in their students through strategies like dressing up as the historical characters they are teaching, sponsoring field trips to the local courthouse, and requiring their students to do community service work. Cheerleaders also tend to be the ones who volunteer to sponsor clubs like Model U.N., STEM Club, and Future Business Leaders of America. 
  2. The Curmudgeon.  Curmudgeons long for the days when teachers were the gods of their classrooms and students knew their place.  Strict disciplinarians, their expectations are as high as their patience for misbehaviour is low: students are expected to arrive promptly, attend silently, and raise their hands only if they suspect they are suffering an aneurysm. On the one hand, the Curmudgeon's methods are antiquated and opposed to almost every "best practice" introduced over the last 50 years; on the other hand, the combination of high expectations and relentless fear can be highly motivating to some students.  Curmudgeons are easy to smoke out - at your next staff meeting, simply praise, in a loud voice, any current educational fad, and listen for the teachers who snort in derision.
  3. The Ditz.  Perpetually flustered, Ditzes always seems to be a little surprised and disconcerted to find themselves in charge of a classroom.  Surrounded by piles of unsorted, ungraded student work, they spend the first 5 minutes of every class looking for the warmup activity they've somehow misplaced and end every class several seconds after the bell has rung with an impossibly rushed series of last-minute stream-of-consciousness instructions: "Everyone put your papers in the tray and remember to take a study guide before you go and push your tables back where they were and turn in your homework before you leave and if you need to retake the test don't forget to stay after school and no one leaves until the floor is clean!"  Homework, tests, projects and grades are haphazard things, with constantly shifting deadlines and vague expectations. 
  4. The Drowning Man. Pity the Drowning Man! Despite the most earnest and sincere of intentions, these teachers are so hopelessly mired in a quicksand of paperwork, overdue grades, and missed deadlines that they can barely keep their heads above water.  Drowning Men are easily recognizable by the look of  sad desperation in their eyes as they pass you at a stumbling run-walk in the hall, mumbling things like "why the hell would they schedule the kid-talk for Rudolfo at the same exact time I'm supposed to be at the IEP for Jenna?" trailing post-it note reminders in their wake like an comets trails chunks of ice.  The theme of every Drowning Man's classroom is "half finished" - from the half-finished bulletin board on the wall to the half-finished stack of copying in their chair; from the half-cleaned pile of glass labwear piled next to their sink to the half-graded stack of essays bulging out of their overstuffed carpetbags. 
  5. The Emo.  The Emo's objective is to make sure every student feels special and loved. You know this because, somewhere on the wall of their classroom, there will be a posters that says, "You are special" and "You are loved" - probably nestled between posters of kittens and smiling scarecrows.  The Emo's class rules include such admonitions as "Be a Good Friend" and "Do Your Best." Good luck finding their desk, because it's likely to be buried under pictures of family/former students/pets, "#1 Teacher" mugs/figurines, and a 365 Reasons to Love a Teacher desk calendars. Ask an Emo for a pencil and they'll selflessly loan you their very favorite, most special pen ... but be sure you return it, because Emo's cry at the drop of a hat, especially when students disappoint them 
  6. The Martha Stewart. You get the feeling that teaching is merely the price that Martha Stewarts pay for all the fun they derive from decorating their classrooms. Given dollar store bargains and unlimited washi tape, Martha Stewarts can hack basically any classroom need.  As teachers, they tend to assign projects that require construction paper, glitter, and mad origami skills.  If every class has its own color coded supplies, if you change the decorative theme of your classroom more than 4 times a year, or if you have a Pinterest board devoted to classroom organization, then you may be a Martha Stewart. 
  7. The Sigma Six. Sigma Sixes, like their corporate peers, are models of professional excellence. They eat data, drink statistics, and breathe best practices. Their classrooms look like teaching Centers of Excellence: walls hung with word walls and anchor charts; technology strategically deployed at the optimum student:computer ratio; desks arrange to maximize instructional efficiency.  At CLT meetings, they're the ones spouting sentences such as: "What we need here is a research-based strategy for improving metacognition in our students with executive processing deficits." Their mastery of social skills tends to determine whether Sigma Sixes are beloved or loathed by their colleagues.
  8. The Shill. Shills aspire to be Sigma Sixes, but are held back by their tragic gullibility. For Shills, alas, truly believe in the efficacy of every new educational fad. There's not an educational celebrity or book-of-the-month they haven't at one time or another worshipped as the next "one ring to rule them all." Over time, their teaching style resembles a schizophrenic tapestry of constantly changing educational strategies - one year, the Shill's classes are engrossed in self-directed reading; the next year, every activity incorporates a Kagan strategy; the year after that, the kids are rotating in a confused daze through differentiated centers. Administrators tend to love Shills because their unique blend of gullibility and zeal makes them perfect proselytizers for their whatever new educational initiative their county/state has required their schools to adopt.
  9. The Subversive.  Dedicated to thwarting authority, Subversives are the most likely of the archetypes to skip out on staff meetings, bus duty, and required professional development. In the classroom, they teach what, when, and how they want, regardless of pacing guides, unit plans, or administrative guidance.  At staff meetings, they'll be the ones wearing Hawaiian shirts or teeshirts emblazoned with dry, learned puns. Their teaching style tends towards sarcasm and irony, and their decorating scheme towards the eclectic: old concert posters, wartime propoganda posters, a laboratory skeleton attired in a boa and mardi gras beads. Of all the teacher types, Subversives are the most likely to assign banned books as required reading, facilitate Socratic seminars on race relations, and entertain their class with spectacular chemical experiments of dubious safety.  
  10. The Whiner. As their name suggests, Whiners thrive on a diet of unsatisfactory students, unreasonable administrators, overdemanding parents, rude colleagues, ridiculous educational expectations, and perceived slights. They also tend to believe that their complaints gain in validity the more frequently they are repeated; thus, having formulated a gripe, they tend to restate it over and over again until interrupted by aforementioned rude colleagues.  New, innocent teachers often make the mistake of assuming that Whiners are in search of guidance and good advice; soon, however, they realize that their efforts to alleviate the Whiner's grievance(s) tend to be greeted with resentment rather than relief. Note that Whiners aren't necessarily bad teachers - they just thrive on a diet of unrelieved disappointment.
  11. The Zombie.  Like their namesakes, Zombies are the remnants of creatures that once lived, breathed and loved, but that have perished and are now insensate hulks. They may imitate the motions of teaching, but Zombies are dead inside, either exhausted by overwork, burned out by stress, or drained of their passion, vampire-like, by the pervasive apathy of those around them. Since they have given up on complaining (along with everything else), busy administrators sometimes fail to note their comotose state, thus dooming legions of children to soulless, mindless instruction. Truly, the only humane thing to do is to force them out into the real world, where they will either discover a new passion for hunting brains or sink quietly into their graves, buried with an engraved "Congratulations on your retirement!" faux gold clock laid upon their chests where their hearts used to reside.


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