Field Notes: The Archetypes of Teaching

What are some of the archetypes we find in our buildings?
Matty the Shaman – my first character in World of Warcraft

I’ve now been in three buildings, and worked with dozens of colleagues, peers and administration. Often I approach a new or current situation from an anthropological stance, observing and gathering data. This maybe misguided–perhaps I should have taken a page out of an RPG, Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell. So, to that end, here is my field guide to teaching/educational archetypes. Note: all the descriptions come from my personal experiences in playing an RPG game, study of archetypes and how I see them applied.

Cleric/Priest: the cleric or priest uses light and shadow magic to both heal and harm/defend. They are often passive in their spells and actions, but working behind the scenes to make others feel safe and warm. These teaching archetypes often are the ones behind the Sunshine Committees, holiday treats, (think Secret Santas), and making sure cards are purchased and passed around for births, deaths, get well, etc. Sometimes, their shadow side takes over, and they send tendrils of whispers and negativity. But, their healing powers are strong, and they often bring food and community. Think Family and Consumer Science teacher who shares what the students cook, or organizes the potlucks.

Bard: the bard is the troubadour or music maker. Think young male teacher, who sings a lot about himself and his contributions, but often does nothing. (And gets eaten first.)

Dark/Death Knight: The Death Knight was once a good and chivalrous knight, but a dark force turned them against the powers of truth, and they worked diligently and painfully through redemption to use their powers for good once again.

Death knights utilize enchanted rune weapons that enhance their abilities and are powerful foes on the battlefield. Like warriors, they deal large amounts of physical damage and are capable of withstanding large amounts of damage to protect their allies. Death knights spread infections and diseases among their enemies, and use dark magics to heal themselves in battle. Born of the frozen north, death knights can command the frost in their veins to freeze the hearts and minds of their enemies, or even turn the ground beneath their feet to ice. By their very nature, death knights are resistant to magic, and have a number of abilities for defending against its use.

We find our teacher Death Knights often as math teachers or administrators. It’s that ‘resistant to magic’ thing.

Momokawa, my Druid in WoW

Druid: druids are nature lovers, dwellers, shapeshifters: their dualities help them adapt to new situations, but this can result in never being truly settled. Their presence isn’t constant. Dissolution of the self is key. (Think of Gandalf–he’s far more druidic than mage/wizard.) Their concerns are global and public, so that their private concerns or individuality becomes almost nonexistent. These are the teachers that attract students to them in large groups (the critter spell). Science teachers who work well with Project-Based Learning and coordinating large field trips and school events, but have a tendency to take over the entire event. Don’t wait for them to delegate to you, just tell them what you will do.

Hunter/Ranger: hunters and rangers have many distinctions, but basically they walk around and kill things short and long range. Think of your curriculum guides and framework makers who can either kill the love of learning long-term or who can help bring down nasty bosses with their skills. Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

Mage: mages are magic makers, spell casters, often working with fire, ice, or arcane magic. These are the teachers who always seem to know what combination of instructional techniques work best, but sometimes overkill the lesson, or struggle to build up enough energy. Mage teachers experience burnout quickly unless they find ways to boost and renew their energy from the healers.

Monk: monks bring peace and balance to a situation, but also know when to use their powers to knock something out. Think of the colleague who’s kind of there, sitting quietly, and then says the ONE thing that helps the group. They are not afraid of looking silly, and are humble. They have nothing to prove: they know when to feign weakness in order to achieve the goal.

Necromancer: think of the teacher who keeps bad ideas alive. Moving on.

Paladin: the zealot-warrior, using holy light and justice to seek their goals, usually for a larger cause or big idea. These are the ‘teach like a champion’ folks or those who continue to push PBIS without nuance or consideration, thinking that a program or package will solve any issue found in and out of a classroom. But these can also be the union leaders, building representatives, and colleague who stand beside you in times of trouble from bad-faith authorities. They use their powers to shield us in divine light of truth.

Rogue: these are the players who are assassins, stealthy, and do whatever it takes to get the job done, but this can manifest itself in a sneaky, undermining way. They switch allegiances as needed for their own survival, but can be useful in sharing of knowledge and finding courage to do something fresh and new. Thwarted by paladins, however, and these don’t align well.

Shaman: shamans are users and casters of elements and magic. These are the teachers that shake things up and calm situations down. Think of the school librarians/teachers and media specialists who know how to find just the right book or instructional tool for students. They are similar to monks in their ability to speak up when needed, but can be a bit more heavy-handed. When skilled, their elemental knowledge and combinations help create a welcoming classroom. While they’re learning and growing, will express that they feel weak, and need mentoring and support, maybe more than other new teachers. But their strength comes from combining resources from interdisciplinary content/elements. These are often instructional coaches or enjoy having student teachers in their classrooms.

Sorcerer/Wizard: sorcerers and wizards, like mages, warlocks, and blood mages, also spell-cast, using tomes, spells, recipes and a variety of rare and plentiful resources to create what they need. These are the teachers who can spin gold from straw–think of beautiful bulletin boards, displays, plays/costumes and the magic makers for the building.

Warlock/Blood Mage: warlocks and blood mages use blood magic, demons, and some nefarious, often unsavory, methods to get what they want. Spell casters and imp masters, these teachers might be found in English/Language arts or History classes and are unafraid of teaching truth, critical thinking skills, and can lead students to higher understandings of history and literature that go far beyond the textbook. Their downside or caution is if they use others in manipulative ways for their own benefit, causing distrust, discord and discomfort among staff members. At their worst, these are the teachers who think nothing of keeping kids in for recess.

Warrior: warriors are brave, courageous and skilled in battle. However, they can go into berserker or blood rage mode indiscriminately killing both foes and allies alike. Warriors make energetic PE teachers, coaches, and math teachers.

Last year, I experienced a strange thing. My “archetype” was already there, too–my friend will know I’m referring to her. She’s fun, accepting, vulnerable and funny. My principal last year LOVED her. I am the same, but much, much older. My principal last year HATED me. We (my friend and I) commented on it, how much we are alike, but got very different reactions from the principal. I wondered, and still do, if there is only room for one archetype in a building? That role as already been cast? Perhaps in some cases, yes. Some teachers and administrators lack the imagination and leadership to welcome a variety of personalities into the community, and become territorial. But perhaps those people need to play Dungeons and Dragons or World of Warcraft for a few months.

This is far short of an exhaustive list. None of us are “one” thing: for example, I see my teaching style as both paladin/shaman, with a touch of rogue. In our own narratives, we see ourselves as the hero, but perhaps we need to see one another more as a guild and cooperative team, working together. Sharing our gifts makes us stronger, and being honest about our weaknesses is even better, because when we work together to counterbalance we create a healthy environment for ourselves and students.


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