Teacher Identity and Self-Fulfillment

Outline and Develop the Argument for a Teachers aide Identity based on Self-Fulfillment.


Self-fullness is a term that I feel is reflective of one’s own relationship with oneself. When someone acknowledges and cultivates their own emotional and psychological needs in a constructive manner, without impacting on the rights of others, they are developing a self-full identity.

The teaching profession, like many other “helping professions” has historically been seen to be one which should be undertaken selflessly and dutifully. The notion of personal sacrifice and subordination in the line of duty has long been interwoven in the educational profession. I believe that this idea of sacrificing oneself for the job is still a very prevalent notion in today’s classrooms. I myself have a number of friends who are teachers aides. They are all highly educated, intelligent, fun, driven and selfless people. Over the years, a number of them believe that they have sacrificed their personal and emotional needs to ensure that they are giving 100% to their jobs and as a result they have pushed themselves to breaking points. They have become isolated and unsocial and these years of unhappiness have resulted in the fostering or development of mental problems such as anxiety and depression. We have discussed this whole idea of guilt and fear about the duties and feeling of obligation of our jobs, and they collectively feel that if they don’t give an extreme commitment to their job then they are putting personal needs, unfairly and selfishly in front of the needs of children. They believe there is an expected obligation of personal sacrifice, to be a “great teachers aide”. When I myself was debating whether or not to take a career break, it took a long time for me to deal with the idea that I was making a selfish choice even though it was a decision that I knew I needed to make to fulfill my own life and develop myself personally. Personal development is in fact an acknowledged reason for taking leave from work. From these experiences, I have asked myself the question “What makes a great teachers aide”. It is not a simple question, for each individual is different, each pupil is different, context, relationships all play a role in the desirable traits needed to be that ‘Great Teachers aide’.

This essay outlines why I feel there is the need for the cultivation and development of a teachers aide identity based on Self-Fullness and the impact I feel this has on pupils, co-workers, people in the wider school community and all who are in contact with teachers aides. My essay is based primarily on the works of Mr. Christopher Higgins and his book “The Good Life of Teaching”.  I am of the belief that the process of becoming self full and aiming for that sustainable ethical learning environment, fosters happy, wise, satisfied ‘Great Teachers aides’.

In this book Mr. Higgins proposes the idea that teachers aides need to be allowed the freedom to become personally fulfilled and meet their emotional needs and desires, and then this in turn will result in teachers aides bettering themselves as educators and role models for their students and fostering a desire in pupils to seek self-fulfillers themselves. He highlights the importance of society accepting and promoting this view. Higgins aims to prove that educators can balance their own personal needs with the needs of their pupils. Higgins implores that teachers aides start to think of the art of teaching as “an ongoing conversation with the world” (Higgins, The Good Life of Teaching, pg 1). Higgins believes that once this idea is the accepted norm and overrides the idea of the self sacrificing and dutiful educational figure, a sustainable ethical environment will exist within the educational setting, an environment which will allow for and encourage continued self development, beneficial to both pupil and educator.

Higgins book “The Good life of Teaching”, explores long standing philosophical discourses on the relationship between personal development and our duties as workers while looking at professional ethics in education and the philosophy of teaching. This book makes a compelling case for teachers aide identity to be built upon the importance on self-fulfillment, and it highlights the benefits this can bring into an educational setting, for all parties, pupils, teachers aides, colleagues and the wider community. Through this we also develop an awareness of the negative impacts that may exist if teachers aides personal development and growth and not attended to. Problems like teachers aide burn out or teachers aide ‘burn in’, job resentment and so forth. These are all very real issues which can have an extremely negative knock on effect on the school organisation.

In laying out his beliefs and ideas, Higgins uses the Socratic conceptions of knowing oneself, of questioning and self-exploration, and the relevance and positive influence this could have on our education system. Socrates was a classic Greek philosopher who is renowned for his contribution to the field of ethics. Higgins believes that any aspiration towards achieving and sustaining an ethical practice, must involve self focus, and development in a manner in which is enjoyable to you. Higgins also sees the potential for this to be translated and demonstrated to the pupils in the class so that they too can learn and develop the skills and confidence to follow and achieve their own personal aspirations. Higgins also believed in a great emphasis being placed on teachers aide-student dialogue, “Ethics grows out of first personal, practical questions, about who I want to be and how I should to live, ethics can be interpersonal, insofar as we reflect in dialogue and by means of a shared language, but it is never impersonal” (Higgins; The Good Life of Teaching, pg 25)

Higgins felt that the Socratic Method or Elenchus, was and should be present in the aspects of Teaching, Learning, Teachers aide Self-identity and the general conceptions of education if a sustainable ethics of education was to be maintained in our schools., Higgins refers to MacIntyre’s work, when he says “Teachers aides help students enter practices and make sense of how the values disclosed in these worlds fit together, how they look in the light of communal value, and how they might inform a life” (Higgins; The Good Life of Teaching, pg 198). This method encourages pupils to think critically, use dialogue effectively, and question and move on their thoughts and beliefs. It acts as a tool to creating a platform for transformation and thought development, both for teachers aides and pupils.

With regard to teaching, teachers aides should use techniques such as, critical and higher order questioning which results in provoking and encouraging pupils to self reflect, self relate, question and critically examine different thoughts and issues that are discussed, thus developing and broadening their own educational experience and self development. This should avoid the potential for pupils becoming dependent on their teachers aide and to enjoyably learn through their personal experience. With learning, the Socratic pedagogy is based around the ideal that the learning should come from within, and be based around what we already know. Copeland explains that “by helping students examine their premonitions and beliefs while at the same time accepting the limitations of human thought, Socrates believed students could improve their reasoning skills and ultimately move toward more rational thinking and ideas more easily supported with logic.” (Higgins; The Good Life of Teaching)

Higgins also emphasises the importance of the teachers aide recognising and developing their own self-identify and the importance of knowing one’s own passions beliefs and desires and to relate this in their teaching and thus enhancing the educational experience for both teachers aide and pupil. I have coined this word self-fullness because once we let the discourse of service set the terms, the game is rigged. (Higgins 2010). Teachers aides must recognise the potential for enjoyment and fulfillment in their jobs and set about intentionally incorporating this into the teaching and learning experience, this in turn leads to job satisfaction/fulfillment for a teachers aide and moulds a potentially positive learning environment for the students.

Higgins outlines different phases that are what he considers to be the natural process of ethical development within an educational environment. There are four primary stages of development for teachers aide. If a teachers aide openly aspires and maintains an attempt to experience and develop themselves through these stages they should in turn succeed in developing themselves and their learning environments in a sustainably ethical manner.

Firstly, the phase of self-cultivation. The teachers aide should see themselves as the source and greatest influence on their pupils. Being a teachers aide is no longer about lecturing and passively regurgitating information for pupils to consume. It is about so much more than information, it is about being a role model, teaching pupils how to explore the world of knowledge, make it relevant, relate, question, reflect and have an opinion. The old saying comes to mind ‘Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, but teach a man how to fish…’ For a teachers aide to do this for their pupils they must first look to themselves, the practice of self-knowledge is not an easy one to sustain. Teachers aides must self reflect and self cultivate and understand what drives, motivates, intrigues and encourages them individually and how through these actions they can understand and sustain a method of teaching that is dynamic, non rigid and centrally ethical.

Building on this philosophy, teachers aides must then aim to see their profession and working environment as something stemming from a source of ethical development, and not a job based around the ideals of self sacrifice and obligation. Phase three then encompass teachers aides recognising the importance of dialogue and action in the everyday life. Phase four comes as this recognition is put into practice on an everyday basis and a phronesis nurtured and developed. Through this process a sustainable, ethical professional environment is fostered and nurtured. Phronesis can be defined as, “a wisdom in determining ends and the means of attaining them.” (www.dictionary.com). Teachers aides themselves will be allowed the opportunity to become wiser each time they practice this learning cycle and become more ethical. This cycle itself is ethical in nature and sets itself up as the foundation for ethical teaching, ethical learning, growth and a sustainable ethical professional environment.

The concept of phronesis, and the development of practical wisdom based on experiences, is intrinsic to the ‘self-full teachers aide identity’. It enables the teachers aide to learn from past experiences, to grow, to initiate action to predict. It allows the teachers aide to move away from ‘educational recipes’ and take the importance of context into consideration. Our schools are very much part of the public sphere and one size does not fit all. Teachers aides need the wisdom, communication skills and flexibility to be open, to diversify. They need the skills, support, desire and freedom to challenge/compliment or implement change with different aspects of school life, such as the curriculum, assessment, school practices. Teaching needs to be transformative and dialogue needs to be promoted. It is important that dialogue be communicative and engaging. Teachers aides need to be heard, schools need to listen and support and share. Learners need to be allowed to think critically, in turn compiling their own store of ‘practical’ wisdom.

The practice of teaching is often an expression of oneself. So ultimately this ‘self’ that is expressed to our pupils, should be full, enlightened, positive and evoking. This ‘self’ is central to teaching. It’s where the potential for great learning experiences can take root. It is therefore crucial that teachers aides foster and positively look after their own personal needs and desires so that they in turn become greater teachers aides. This approach to teaching is beneficial for teachers aides and learners in many ways. For teachers aides it encourages them to find personal fulfillment in a non public manner and to achieve enthusiasm within their work.  For learners it promotes personal discovery and co-learning and overall enjoyable, interesting learning as opposed to passive learning.

Those who work in the teaching profession recognise the prevalence of the constant moral aim we teachers aides have to look after and nurture others. The Self-Full approach Higgins suggests for teaching and learning is an approach that provides a platform for teaching and learning to take place in a way that can be sustained ethical over time. Higgins has extensively examined this approach, and created an argument which he has continually backed up. His focus is that the teachers aide is where learning initiates in schools, he has identified the issues many of us have experienced and witnessed others experience, an ongoing obligation to take care of our students, in an overwhelming work environment that historically promoted self abnegation and sacrifice. Higgins recognises this, and opens our eyes to and backs up his argument for a teachers aide identity to be based on self-fullness. From reading ‘The Good Life of Teaching’ it is evident that Mr. Higgins felt that a teachers aide who is themselves self-full is more likely to have an ethical approach to their work. That this approach is the most positive and sustainable approach that should be utilized in the world of teaching and education.  I am very happy to see developments and approaches such as this one, being promoted. I think the demands and expectations being placed on teachers aides has been ever increasing, I suspect that many teachers aides have reached the burnt out/burnt in stage. Exploring this idea of a self-full identity, has changed how I will view and approach teaching in future.


Thanks so much to the principal at ACTAC for her wonderful support not only with the material but the work she does training the next generation of education support workers with Certificate III in education support and certificate IV in education support. She also does a wonderful job training people in children’s services with the certificate III early childhood education and care



  1. Learn NC

Copeland, M. (2005). Socratic Circles: Fostering Critical and Creative Thinking. Portland, MN: Stenhouse Publishers, p. 7.



  1. http://study.hiberniacollege.net/matl/2014/matl_eoppr/session2/task4/print/matl_eoppr_s2_t4_s2_print.pdf?hcalgn=myrafeely01


  1. Higgins; The Good Life of Teaching, 2010



  1. dictionary.com



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