The Metamorphosis of a Teacher


Friedrich Nietzsche famously said, “that which does not kill us makes us stronger.” To me, the implication in this statement is we should embrace challenge and chaos in our life in order to become better.  We should seek to make ourselves uncomfortable in order to find truth. If the chaos doesn't kill us, we will become stronger individuals, mentally, physically and spiritually. This is a profound idea. More than what I bargained for when I started learning more about his work.  However, as I reflect on my 13 years as a physical education teacher, I think about my journey and it reminds me of the “metamorphosis of man” that Nietzsche writes about in his book, Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

Nietzsche suggest that evolution does not happen by accident, we must aspire to be more than what we are. This metamorphosis has three stages, the spirit to the camel, the camel to the lion and the lion to the child.  I believe that many teachers go through a similar evolution.

The spirit is the individual whose purpose is simply to get by. The spirit could represent the passive teacher that takes little risk and generally tries to stay out of the spotlight. This teacher might do just enough to get by, reluctant to ruffle any feathers because of the fear of discomfort.  If we are to grow out of this stage as teachers, we must have the courage to rise to the challenges of our profession. We must equip ourselves with the power of knowledge by understanding the system we work in and embracing the challenges it offers.

The first transformation is from the spirit to the camel, where the camel represents a beast of burden. This teacher is happy to take on the weight of responsibility place upon them by the system.  This teacher embraces the challenge and is willing work within the confines of the school system. This teacher has a strong sense of duty and is eager to show his/her worth by working hard.  I see this teacher as someone that is married to the standards and grade level outcomes. In a traditional school system, this teacher can be a highly effective teacher. He/she works hard, teaches the content and does not challenge the system. In many ways, this is highly desirable in a traditional setting.

The second transformation is from a camel to a lion.  This transformation requires self reflection and questioning of the status quo.  Where the camel is comfortable working within the system, the lion seeks freedom above all things.  This teacher knows the standards well but rejects the idea of being limited by them. This teacher seeks liberation from external influences that are designed to bring value or worth.  This teacher seeks intrinsic motivation for themselves and their students, teacher appraisal systems and student grades are not enough. Although the lion seeks liberation, the system is all this teacher knows and will tend to revert back to what is known. The challenge for the lion is creating from emptiness.  

The last transformation is from the lion to the child.  The child enters into a new beginning absent of the past.  A traditional school system may not allow for this type of transformation.  The child approaches the world uninterested in external answers or approval.  This teacher would primarily focus on play and the joy of learning for the sake of learning.  Although the child may not be easily attained, it can be something to aspire towards.

In contrast, Nietzsche also warns us of the “last man.”  The last man is seeking safety above all, and lives to consume rather than create.  Zarathustra says, “One must still have chaos in oneself in order to give birth to a dancing star.”  The last man believes that order is the only way and therefore seeks standardization. This potential lives in all of us.  To counter this, we should live in a way that promotes self transformation through challenge.

Nietzsche suggests that evolution is not guided by accident or time, it is guided by aspiration and a will to become better.  We will not become the best individuals we can be if we do not aspire to be better. Time alone does not make us wise. Instead, we should aspire to be more.  We should aspire to see the world as a child, new and full of hope.

Jorge Rodriguez