Dorky literary allusion to Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations as a vehicle for discussing my role as an educator

The educational bureaucracy wants simple, easy-to-read data, but students are human beings with complex intellectual and emotional needs. Can I serve both the system and my students? Try cramming a square peg into a round hole. Now imagine that the peg is your child. Cue violin music.

One of the most difficult aspects of teaching is the necessity to play many, and often conflicting, roles. I sometimes feel like Wemmick from Great Expectations. For those of you who haven’t read Great Expectations since 9th grade, only pretended to read it, or simply never bothered because you “hate Charles Dickens,” Wemmick is a character that separates his work life from his emotional life as a survival tactic. When Wemmick is at the office, he is cold, calculating, methodical, and logical. When he is home in the “Castle,” he is nurturing and communicative. Now, take Wemmick, place him in a classroom with children, and ask him to behave like he is at the office and in the Castle all at once. Cue mental collapse.

As a public educator, I am expected to be both a cold, calculating assessor and a kind, understanding nurturer. I often feel like a Wemmick that is expected to rush back and forth between the office and the Castle at warp speed and without the benefit of clear boundaries. When I assess, I’m Wemmick at the office. When I teach, I am Wemmick in the Castle, but my students see both sides of me and get confused. I must judge, evaluate, and report each student’s ability, but I am also obliged to deal with the negative impact that has on each student’s ability to see me as someone who can help.

Teachers are too often expected to act like bureaucratic data collectors, and over the course of my career, I’ve tended to error in favor of supporting the system’s expectations. But no more. I’ve made the decision to emphasize nurturing over assessing. So far, students and parents love it, and I believe that this is what’s best for learning.

So, I’m quitting my office job and taking my classroom inside the Castle; I’ll even pull up the drawbridge (In Great Expectations Wemmick’s moat is so narrow that one could easily step across—the drawbridge is merely show.) I may give Caesar his due at the office, but the bulk of my energy will be spent in the Castle.

Let’s just hope it’s not made of sand, or too precariously floating in the sky.

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