Dear Vicki: I’m writing about my son, Kirk. He’s a quiet, loner kind of teen and a very talented artist. Last fall Kirk signed up for a drafting class with a teacher I’ll call Mr. Lane. Kirk loved the artistic aspects of the class and appreciated the structure Mr. Lane brought. All was well until Mr. Lane received our district’s Teacher of the Year award. According to Kirk, after that Mr. Lane began demanding greater accuracy and precision from this beginning drafting class. He also started bragging about the award and other accomplishments he’d had that the students would probably never obtain. Kirk is having a really hard time with this and wants to quit the class. Is there anything I can do to help him stay in a class he loved? Signed, Mom Who Cares
Dear Mom: It’s very unfortunate that a class Kirk so enjoyed has taken such a turn for the worse. And of course, it’s a difficult situation because Kirk is in no position to challenge how his teacher acts. But I do think there is a very definite elemental personality interaction occurring between the two, so let’s see if we can offer some assistance to Kirk.
You describe your son as a “quiet, loner kind of teen and a very talented artist.” In the Five Elements model, this would equate to the Water personality. And based on your descriptions of Mr. Lane, it sounds like he is a primary Metal personality; precision and structure are hallmarks of the Metal element. It says a lot about Kirk’s flexibility that he was able to embrace the structure Mr. Lane brought to the drafting class. Water people usually don’t appreciate someone interfering with their “go with the flow” nature. Clearly, your son is open enough to being guided (which can also be a Water energy trait in balanced Water people) that he embraced Mr. Lane’s direction. Good for him.
Dear Vicki: I have been an elementary school principal for decades and love my work. My goal is always to keep the school running in an appropriate manner and support the students, who I care about deeply. Last year, I started at a new school and one of the teachers there, we’ll call her Jane, was a real challenge to manage. I’m dreading working with her again this year. She is outgoing and often very flighty. She agrees to attend meetings, then doesn’t show up. Or if she does show, she’s kidding around so much we can’t get down to business. The students all love her and think she’s fun, but they don’t have to manage her. Honestly, I do like her and want to do right by her, but I’m having a hard time keeping her in line. Any hints on how to make this year more successful than last? Signed, Burned in Bellevue
Dear Burned: This is an understandably difficult situation. Based on your description, I suspect that Jane is a primary Fire personality, which means she will be a lot of fun, very popular, and also difficult to contain. You sound like you care about doing a good job and have very specific ideas of how you want things run. But Fire people have very little structure, so usually aren’t great at coloring inside the lines, so to speak. And yet, there are definitely ways you can engage with Jane to help bring her onboard.
Based on your deep caring for your students and your goal to keep the school running in an appropriate manner, it is likely that you are a primary Earth personality with a strong secondary Metal personality. Earth people usually care deeply about children and Metal people care deeply about doing what is right or appropriate. The good news is that the Earth part of your personality should get on well with Jane. In the Five Elements model, Earth and Fire relate on the Nurturing Cycle with Fire feeding Earth. This implies that, if you were honest with yourself, you probably enjoy Jane as much as the students do. The challenge for you rests in the relationship between your strong secondary Metal personality and Jane’s Fire personality.
Dear Vicki: My high school senior is having problems with one of her teachers. I know, what high school student doesn’t have teacher problems, right? But my concern is that the dynamic between Jillian and Mr. Smith could set a tone for the rest of Jillian’s educational life. She’s an outgoing, fun-loving, teenager who excels at the more social aspects of high school like cheerleading and parties, but generally gets respectable grades. Mr. Smith is deliberate (Jillian calls him boring), thoughtful, and what I would call deep. Jillian finds his history class boring and thinks everything about him is a “total downer” (other than the fact that he frequently lets them out of class early). Consequently, she isn’t doing well in the class. I don’t want to let her drop it, but is there some way to help her appreciate his deep approach to learning? Signed, A Concerned Mom
Dear Concerned Mom: Bless you for caring enough to help your daughter understand her teacher instead of just letting her bolt from the class. I think there is a definite possibility of offering Jillian a lesson in relationship dynamics as you assist her in better understanding her history teacher. Here’s how you might approach the situation.
Based on how you and Jillian describe him, it seems pretty likely that Mr. Smith is a Water personality. Water people are deep and thoughtful, love pondering the greater truths of the world, and often use wisdom from the past to inform current and future learning. Jillian, on the other hand, sounds like a Fire personality. Fires love socializing, being the focus of attention, and standing out in a crowd. If we use the Five Elements model, we will see that Jillian and Mr. Smith relate to each other via the Controlling Cycle where his Water energy controls her Fire energy. Few Fire people like having Water rain on their parade, so it’s understandable that Jillian reacts negatively to Mr. Smith.
Dear Vicki: This isn’t a relationship question, but I hope you can help me. I live in a small town and just started my first year as an elementary school teacher. My student teaching was bumpy – I wasn’t very dynamic in the classroom – but I thought that was just because I was nervous with someone watching me so closely. But now, even in my “own” classroom, I feel like I’m failing. The students seem bored and restless, and I’m sure they hate me. By the end of the day, I just want to crawl in a hole and be alone. I’m pretty sure I’m a Water, so does that mean it’s hopeless for me to try to be a great teacher? Signed: Woeful Water
Dear Woeful Water: Actually, this is a relationship question. Teaching is all about relationships. The best exchange of information in a classroom happens when you and your students are relating well. The fact that you want to be alone when things aren’t going well, your assumption that all of your students hate you, and your tendency to feel hopeless about teaching does make it seem that you are a Water. So let’s take a look at what you, as a Water, have to offer your students. We’ll also look at what your students expect from you given their elements, and how to make sure you are the best Water teacher you can be for your students.
The good news for you is that Waters, by nature, are usually passionate about truth and ideas. If you love your subjects and understand their importance, you will be able to impart that passion to your students. This is a hallmark of an excellent teacher, no matter what they teach. More good news for you as a teacher is that Water is the realm of inspiration, so you can bring creativity to your classroom more easily than other elements. You will also be able to bring a mix of Water’s wisdom and playfulness, which will be especially wonderful at the elementary level.
The flip side is that if a Water teacher is stressed or out of balance, they sometimes bring too much Water to the classroom, drowning their students in ideas without offering any structure. They can also wander off topic or get caught up in a tangential flow and become lost. And if they think things aren’t going well with the class, the Water stress response of fear that they might not be doing well enough joins up with the basic Water need for solitude. This can lead to a Water teacher disconnecting from their students and retreating. It sounds like this might be part of what you experience after a bad day when you just want to be alone.