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Back to School Prep Guide: 8 Metaphors for a Teacher

Jordan Catapano

Back to School:’s Ultimate 5-Week Prep Guide is your go-to resource for making sure that your return to the classroom is successful.

It’s difficult to define what exactly we do as teachers. It’s even more difficult to describe the role of a teacher to someone who’s not in the education field. Sometimes, instead of trying to describe what we do, it’s a little easier to draw parallels with another career.

The Role of a Teacher is Also a …

Coach. Coaches can scream at athletes and push them to exhaustion. They can express disappointment when teams fail and joy when they succeed. They focus on fundamentals, strategies to achieve success, and on working as a team. Doesn’t that sound like teaching, too? We thrive when students collaborate and succeed, and push them when they’re on the verge of failing. A teacher is a coach.

Physical Trainer. Sure, someone looking to get in shape could exercise on his own, but it’s loads easier when you have a knowledgeable expert instructing you along the way. Physical trainers know how to assess their clients’ initial abilities and have all the right techniques to get them where they want to be. Perhaps the best thing about them is that they push individuals further than anyone would himself or herself. Like physical trainers, teachers know how to determine where their students are and how to engage their mental muscles to grow throughout the course of the year. We push, we train, we yell, and then we put our arm around students to congratulate them on a job well done. A teacher is a physical trainer.

9-1-1 Dispatcher. The 9-1-1 dispatcher is the first voice you hear who assesses your needs, encourages you that it will be OK, coaches you through the first steps of response, and sends the resources necessary to rescue you. As teachers, we often intervene in the same way—we see the problem and hear the calls for help, we determine what resources are necessary, we walk students through the steps they need for recovery, and we encourage them that it will turn out okay. A teacher is a 9-1-1 dispatcher.

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Tinder and Flint. Apart, tinder and flint don’t do much. But strike them together and you’ve got sparks. Put those sparks next to a flammable material and fire roars to life. Teachers and students are like tinder and flint – what’s one without the other? Strike them together and, under the right conditions, you’ll have the flames of knowledge start small and begin to spread. A teacher (and their students) is tinder and flint.

Juggler. How does a juggler manage to fling four, five, or more balls in the air without letting them fall? It takes years of practice and coordination to make juggling look as entertaining and effortless. Likewise, teachers manage to somehow balance students’ needs with district criteria, tend to colleagues, communicate with parents, plan for lessons, grade homework, provide feedback, and report at meetings, all while maintaining some semblance of a personal life. How do teachers manage to do all that without dropping the balls? A teacher is a juggler.

Artist. True art contains heart, passion, emotion, experience, and finesse to fine-tune an idea into a beautiful product. Artists understand the fundamentals of their craft, but they’re also able to insert a large portion of themselves into their work, to make decisions on the fly, and to subtly fine tune a product one day at a time. Teachers, too, can see students as their masterpieces, and they draw on more than just a set code of techniques to teach students. We don’t just mold minds, after all—we mold hearts too. A teacher is an artist.

Gardener. A gardener takes a small seed, plants it in the ground, and nurtures it. He keeps it free from weeds, provides water, and gives access to sunlight. And soon enough, that small seed turns into a flourishing plant. Teachers similarly plant seeds of truth and wisdom inside of their students. We do everything we can to ensure that the seed we plant today will blossom tomorrow. A teacher is a gardener.

Tour Guide. When we travel, it’s helpful to hire a tour guide to explain the fascinating, foreign sights we’re experiencing. The information they possess and the stories they share make old buildings, strange edifices, or foreign structures look fascinating. As teachers, we help students see what is mesmerizing in the world. We expose them to new delights and adventures, and then let them decide what they’d like to pursue further. A teacher is a tour guide.

What’s your teacher metaphor? How do you understand your role as a teacher? Share your metaphor with us in the comments below!

Jordan Catapano is an English teacher at Conant High School in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and currently serves as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website