When I taught SAT classes in college, I once agreed to substitute at a location where a teacher had called in sick. And before I’d even arrived to teach, I’d heard all about Alex, the bad apple of the class.
The sick teacher had called and warned me that Alex was a disruptive class clown who clearly didn’t want to be there. The site director at that location made a separate phone call and gave me the same heads up. The message was clear—Alex will be a challenge, so be ready for him.
But fifteen minutes before the four-hour class was scheduled to end, Alex had yet to do a single thing that could be called disruptive. I finally just decided to address the elephant in the room and playfully ask him about it, right there in front of everyone else in the class.
Alex, I’ve gotta be honest—I’m a little disappointed. I got all these warnings that you were going to give me a hard time. I was ready for you. But we’ve been in here for almost four hours and you haven’t done a single thing out of line. Are you giving me a pass, or are you just waiting to give me an extra hard time at the end?
Alex looked at me with half a smile and just said, “Do you want me to give you a hard time?”
I don’t think I taught any better or differently than Alex’s regular instructor, and there could be any number of reasons Alex decided to play it straight the day I was his teacher. Maybe he was tired. Maybe he just didn’t feel like wasting his comedic powers on someone who would only be there one day. Or maybe he decided he didn’t want to be the problem kid. But for that day, he was a completely different student than he was reported to be. For that one day, he’d reinvented himself. And there was nothing jarring about it for me—I’d never experienced the other version of Alex.
Students, as you head back to school, remember that there’s no law saying that you can’t reinvent yourself with your teachers.
Maybe you don’t want to be the class clown anymore and are ready to show your more studious side.
Maybe you’re tired of sitting back during class discussions and you’re now ready to raise your hand and engage.
Maybe you’re ready to care more about learning and less about earning an A at any cost.
Maybe you’re ready to lean into your favorite subject, or to stop beating yourself up over your weaker subject and be happy just trying your best.
Depending on where you go to school, most of your teachers will be meeting you for the first time. You’re not carrying any reputation-based baggage with you. You can start fresh if you want to.
So if you’re ready to make a change that will leave you happier, more successful, more engaged, or all of the above, the first week of school is the perfect time to reinvent yourself.