What Oprah Taught Me about Honesty, Trust, and Teaching

By Nick McDaniels — Admittedly, I have never been an avid Oprah watcher. Though Oprah has been on television for every one of my 23 years on this earth, I can say that I have probably only watched a dozen episodes. I was, however, like millions of people around the world, compelled to rush home to watch the last few episodes of The Oprah Winfrey Show. And now, I am becoming one of the billions of people world-wide that have reflected on the impact of Oprah on our lives, and one of the millions to blog about it.

Watching the last few episodes, hearing from the people that Oprah has impacted, and seeing the best moments of 25 years of great television, I can say that I learned something that will help me as a teacher.

Oprah, ironically behind a lot of make up and beneath a lot of hairspray, has earned a reputation as someone rarely afraid to admit her faults on television. In an age when celebrities, with help from the media, do so much to distinguish themselves as different from the common folks, Oprah consistently has tried to relate to the rest of us, the less than perfect people. Through televising her own struggles with weight and style and a tumultuous upbringing, Oprah has made people comfortable, inspired people to make changes for themselves and for others. In this way Oprah is doing something that every teacher in America, including myself, should be doing better.

As teachers, we need to ensure that our students see our faults, see that we are not perfect, but work hard to be great. Too often in my classroom, especially as a first year teacher, but still too often now, I try to be perfect in front of my students. Recently I realized that the more that I admit my own imperfections (typos in assignments, not knowing the answers to questions), the more my students are willing to listen, the more comfortable they become and the more they trust me.

So watching Oprah’s finale, seeing thousands of people with tears in their eyes, I realized that people trust her because they perceive her to be honest, and people for years have tuned-in intently every week to listen. Following Oprah’s lead, by acknowledging my imperfections as a teacher and a person in front of my students, they will, among other things, perceive me honest, and trust me, and listen, and learn.

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