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The Teacher as a Mensch

By Dave Stuart Jr.

To be called a Mensch is the greatest compliment one can give you.

–Bruna Martinuzzi, The Leader as a Mensch: Become the Kind of Person Others Want to Follow, p. xiv

Every time I pick up Bruna Martinuzzi's little book, The Leader as a Mensch, I'm given a mark that's well out in front of me. In a special way, it is an aspirational read — I pick it up when I need a reminder of where I'd like to head.

Mensch isn't a word that I had ever heard growing up, and so I needed Martinuzzi's definition paragraph at the book's start. In case you're in my boat, I'll share it here:

Mensch is a German word meaning human being or person. It has no gender. In Yiddish, it is a popular word with deep connotations. It has been variously translated as a man (or woman) of integrity and honor, an upstanding individual, a decent person with admirable characteristics. It describes an individual who is higher on the evolutionary scale, a person in whose presence we feel safe; a person who makes us feel good about ourselves. It is someone we want to work for, someone we want as our spouse or business partner — it is someone who we would welcome as a friend. Among the admirable characteristics of a Mensch are humility, authenticity, integrity, fairness, accountability, dependability, conscientiousness, empathy, composure, optimism, generosity, and appreciation — to name a few. There are no organizational assessments for Mensch-hood. You know when you are in the presence of a Mensch. They have a calm presence and they exude credibility. They earn respect without demanding it. They will often lead form the side, just by the sheer force of their example, whether in the boardroom, classroom or living room. These are individuals with high emotional intelligence. To be called a Mensch, is the greatest compliment one can give you.

(I've bolded the bits that seem especially relevant to our work as teachers.)

Blogger emeritus Seth Godin has this way of looking at one's career not as a series of jobs but as a series of projects. As I look at my own career, I see that my professional reading and writing coheres under this model.

My first reading and writing project was about the Common Core. It culminated in the Common Core book. I wouldn't call it a passion project, but it got me going.

Next (and even during that first one), I moved to a project around these questions:

  • What matters most in our classrooms?
  • How do we focus on these things not just in isolation, but as teams, departments, and schools?

That reading and writing project culminated in These 6 Things.

What's the next one? I'm delighted to say that I don't know and that I'm not even that eager to know right now. 🙂

But I do know that one project that's coming into better and better focus is this question of “How do we become the kinds of teachers from whom great teaching tends to flow?” Because I do see that, in every school I've ever visited, there seem to be these kinds of teachers. Their styles differ, they've got different strengths and weaknesses, but they teach from this place of inner strength and clarity, and as a result, their classrooms have an outsized impact on the long-term flourishing outcomes of kids.

Often, they have mastered the inner work of teaching — something I've written along the edges of for years and hope to delve deeper into in the years to come.

I bring all that up because Bruna Martinuzzi's book offers one model for exploring that question — the model of Mensch.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. When you order on Amazon through one of these links, I get a small commission. I use this to fund further research or to buy books for my students. Thank you 🙂

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