About Jake Miller

Mr. Jake Miller is the 2016 National History Day Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year, a 2017 NEA Global Fellow to China, and a former candidate for county-wide office. Miller has written more than 500 articles, most of which have appeared on The Educator's Room. He's the opening contributor to TER's book When the Fire Is Gone. Learn more about Jake at www.MrJakeMiller.com

Teachers wear many hats. Frank McCourt, famous teacher and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning autobiography Angela’s Ashes once was quoted saying this:

In the high school classroom, you are a drill sergeant, a rabbi, a shoulder to cry on, a disciplinarian, a singer, a low-level scholar, a clerk, a referee, a clown, a counselor, a dress-code enforcer, a conductor, an apologist, a philosopher, a collaborator, a tap dancer, a politician, a therapist, a fool, a traffic cop, a priest, a mother-father-brother-sister-uncle-aunt, a bookkeeper, a critic, a psychologist, and the last straw.

 Let’s examine each hat that McCourt says we wear:

Drill sergeant: Teachers are, first and foremost, in control of the classroom. It’s funny that we prepare students to be contributors to the greatest democracy in the world while holding onto power almost dictatorially. If I make a rule in class, there is no debate – it is followed, or there are repercussions. Just like drill sergeants prepare our troops for their future trials and tribulations, we do the same for our students. We just don’t have time to debate it. Raise your hand to answer the question. Sir, yes, sir!

Rabbi / priest: Granted, religion has been curbed in the classroom to not offend anybody, but it’s amazing how much we can learn about our different students’ religions. That causes teachers to be inclusive and drive an inspirational message, as does anybody at the front of a congregation. Parishioners of church, synagogue, mosque, temple each look to the leader to create and drive home the message. We, as teachers in a House of One, do the same.

Shoulder to cry on: I was not prepared for 12-year-old students telling me some of the things they experience at home. Many kids come to school to learn. Some others come here to be loved.

Disciplinarian: Yes, that doesn’t mean just send them to the assistant principal’s office. A well-run classroom is like a well-run organization. There are expectations that need to be met, and when they’re not, there are consequences. We uphold them, and then we move forward.

Singer: I’m going to admit, I struggle with this one. But I think McCourt believes there’s a place for art in every classroom and school. You should see some of the incredible things students do at our district: they are working with clay in elementary school, cooking meals for their parents in middle school, and producing Broadway-quality musicals in high school

Low-level scholar: I’m never going to have a PhD in early American history, but I’m damn near close. I invite students’ questions, and I really enjoy answering them. Those I can’t irk my own inquisitiveness. I’ve read more books on the Founding Fathers than I thought were written, and that’s just this year. On the other hand, I can sit down with my 7th grade students and show them how to work an algebraic problem or use proper grammar for lay vs. lie.

Clerk / bookkeeper: Clerk and paperwork. McCourt stated this before the advent of standardized testing, data teams, and email. I wonder what he’d say now… Hmmmm.

Referee: If you’ve spent more than 15 minutes in an elementary school, it doesn’t take long to see who wears the stripes.

“Mr. Miller, so-and-so took my box of crayons.”
“Well, he was throwing pencil shavings at me first.”
Etcetera, etcetera

Clown: Humor drives a classroom and the learning model. I teach some pretty dry stuff sometimes. But I can make you laugh about it, and remember it. Heck, I wrote a play about the Declaration of Independence where Roger Sherman break dances in the middle of the Second Continental Congress. And, students take note – you cannot outwit me with your comments. Ever.

Counselor: No teacher is ever surprised with how much students come to us seeking professional advice, selecting, their college, or being a recommendation for the frozen yogurt shop or grocery store.

Dress-code enforcer: Oh, my favorite role. As a young, male teacher with many frequent female offenders, it’s a really, really, really uncomfortable line to toe. Thankfully, my neighbor, a stern and strict female, takes the reins on that one.

Conductor: Say what you will about teaching, but you get to close your door and pretty much do what you want. The day before spring break we played a game of Capture the Flag with American Revolution rules. After we return, we’re going to look at poster of the Lewis & Clark Corps of Discovery Expedition. If I want to change that, I can.

Apologist:

See Regulations and regulators, national, state, and local.

Philosopher: In Greek, this term roughly translates into “love of wisdom.” Think about some of the passions that drive your life. You’ve met a teacher that gave you kindling and a spark for it.

Collaborator: Probably the most underused of our hats. It’s amazing that, in a job that is so social and so unionized, teachers are so independent and autonomous. We need to work together more.

Tap dancer: When I told my favorite teacher that I wanted to follow in her footsteps, she once told me that teaching is one part education, one part entertainment, and the spices can vary from there. Keep tapping!

Politician: I have to laugh at this one. I used to work in the Pennsylvania State Senate, and I left that job because I was bothered at how slow and misguided things moved in politics and government. I thought I evaded that molasses-like meandering, but now that teachers and education is the lightning rod of politics, well, here we are again.

Therapist: When the going gets tough, the tough sometimes breakdown. They need a great life coach on the side to know they’re there for them.

Fool: This April Fools’ Day, I told the students our Spring Break was going to be delayed a day because the district was using it as a make-up day. Two years ago, I put a sign on our copier saying that it’s now voice activated. Oh man, that was fun. Foolish, but fun.

Traffic cop: Look folks, we don’t write the rules. We only enforce them. We don’t like enforcing all of them, and we’ll pick our battles. But, in a general conclusion, we enjoy the order that stems from a set of rules, and we’ll honor that order more than anything else. So don’t ask to sign out while I’m teaching.

Mother-father-brother-sister-uncle-aunt: There are so many of these posts missing from kids’ lives, and they need them. We fill that void.

Critic:

  • What does this line of poetry mean?
  • Am I a Democrat or a Republican?
  • What does Rosebud symbolize?
  • Why doesn’t cold fusion work?
  • Students are just learning the critical and analytical part of their mind in many of our classrooms, and we need to model that – fairly – for them.

Psychologist: We can sum this up with one often posed question (“Don’t you think my child has autism / ADHD / bipolar disorder / dyslexia / depression / anxiety?”) and our answer (“I don’t know, Mr. / Mrs. So-And-So, but I did observe this…”)

Last straw: At the end of the class, end of the meeting, end of the day, end of the marking period, and end of the year, we’re pretty empowered with what we can and can’t do. You want to pull Susie to take a retest so she can pass the course? You want to call a parent to tell them how great a child has turned things around? You want to start your own intensive learning environment? Well, the buck stops with you, my dear teacher colleague. Where will your final straw end?

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