I don’t remember where I first learned about what I’ve come to think of as the “matryoshka doll” theory of personality. Most likely, a book introduced me to the idea by comparing a character’s personality to a set of Russian nesting dolls. The character at her oldest, wisest, most generous, and most morally developed was the largest nesting doll. But inside of that doll existed the person she was as an adolescent, as a six year old, and even as an infant.
Most of the time, the largest nesting doll was able to keep the little ones under control. But occasionally, one of the smaller dolls would slip out. This explained why people sometimes felt so small and so out of control. This also explained why, once in a while, an otherwise level-headed person could be reduced to tears over something ridiculously petty or trivial. According to this theory, we’re all walking around carrying other versions of ourselves inside. All it takes is a little twist of the waist and – pop – these other versions start acting out.
After a bit of clicking around, I found a Wikipedia article referring to this concept as “the hypostatic model of personality.” Whatever it’s called, it’s something I’ve been thinking about recently as I’ve begun teaching ESL in the afternoons. Even given a small class size with a 10 student maximum, I’ve found myself tapping into different versions of my personality in an attempt to connect with every student.
In many ways, I have a very easy class to work with. Most of the students range in age from their late teens to early twenties, so they’re used to being in a classroom environment. In addition, no two students come from the same country, which means I don’t have to wrestle with side chatter in a language other than English.
My biggest challenge is trying to meet the differing expectations of such a diverse group. Some students want to get through as much of the workbook as possible and learn as much new grammar or vocabulary as possible. Others want to dispense with the book entirely and simply jabber about everything under the sun. Still others are just trying to make it through the afternoon — the evening and New York City nightlife is what really interests them.
And perhaps this is the mark of a newbie teacher, but I want all of them to get what they want.
I want all of them to get what they want, and I want to be the teacher who delivers what they want. That’s the unvarnished and slightly embarrassing truth. Even though I realize I’m striving towards an impossible end, I nonetheless hope that each of them will leave – in some measure – satisfied.
I would love to satisfy the sweet, wide-eyed teenager who volunteers all the answers. There is a part of me that has been in her shoes.
The totally lost and timid student: she recalls a part of me as well.
The haughty twenty-year-old with a hangover staring at her phone throughout class? Actually, I’ve been there too.
And I can easily imagine myself in circumstances similar to the forty-year old taking a break from work to travel and to study abroad.
Of course, I haven’t been in the exact shoes of any of these individuals; I can’t really know what they think or feel. Still, I try to relate and to adapt classroom activities accordingly.
At the end of the day, the proof of my efforts has been coming back to me in the form of student evaluations.
“The class was OK,” wrote some.
“It was good,” wrote others.
And then there was that one note. “Even though she is a new teacher, she has much capacities.”
(When I read that one, every version of me smiled.)