As Debbie sat down she flung her long hair over her shoulder and I could see the determined set of her jaw and her apprehensive frown. I hadn’t met Debbie yet. I was doing some long term supply teaching, and was given this class as the relationship had broken down with their teacher. Specifically, it had broken down between the teacher and Debbie, and Debbie had taken half the class with her.
I handed out their work for the lesson. As I placed her worksheet in front of her, I felt her cool appraising gaze. She was just the sort of girl who terrified me when I was her age, 15, and I felt a bit of the teenage angst rise as a frisson deep down inside me. As I gave out the rest of the worksheets I was sizing her up too. Perhaps fortunately I had had a couple of lessons with the group already, while she was away. She had missed the beginning of the topic so I knew she would feel on the back foot and so would need to make her mark.
I returned to her table. “Aw Miss, I can’t do this, too hard.”, she said. “Oh, I bet you can”, I countered, and we worked through a couple of the questions together. I showed her how to find the answers in her textbook. She seemed to pick things up quickly, and I began to form the opinion that she was in that set because she wouldn’t rather than couldn’t. ‘All’ I needed to do was to get her on board and she could fly. “Ok, looks like you got it, see how you get on”, I said and went to help a table on the other side of the lab.
Barely 10 minutes had passed and Debbie was chatting with her friends. I went to see how they were getting on and was amazed to see she had almost finished the worksheet. Most in the group were finding it fairly challenging. “Hey, that’s brilliant”, I said. “How are you finding it?” “Oh, it’s easy” “There, then, I told you you could do it!”
At that moment I felt the energy subtly change. I wasn’t sure why although it had something to do with Debbie. I decided to give her a bit of space and went to help another table. A few minutes later and I returned again. Her book was shut and the worksheet was gone….but the tap in the island by the table was dripping and in the sink was her sodden work.
I realised that I had badly played the feedback…..and I knew beyond any doubt which enneagram personality she was being: the Asserter. The Asserter is the personality which some think of as the natural leader. Their preoccupation is knowing where the power lies, and if they believe the power would be better held by them they have no compunction about making a takeover bid. Every social interaction tends to be a subtle (or not so subtle!) power play. They are also very blunt personalities – ‘say it how it is’. For them confrontation clears the air because they can see things in black and white, and confrontations tend to bring everything out into the open.
So blunt honesty was a good gamble in this situation. “I realise what just happened”, I told her. “You do?” “Yes, when I said ‘I told you you could do it’ it annoyed you. You did it because you wanted to do it, not because you wanted to please me.”
Debbie gave a huge grin. “High five, Miss”, she said, raising her hand.
I was in that school for several months and saw her through her GCSEs. She was always hard work, but most of the time did most of the work and got the C she was hoping for.
The Asserter (Eight) personality in teenagers can be incredibly challenging. It is like a bonfire within them, and our job as the adults in their lives is to set our egos to one side and see that latent leadership potential and nurture it. Too often adults try dealing with it by attempting to subdue it. If that tactic doesn’t lead to World War 3 in the classroom, it will inevitably create a tense atmosphere which is not conducive to anyone’s learning as the Asserter (Eight) is constantly on the lookout to gain points. Anger at what they perceive to be unfairness is the Eight’s driver, and they seek to take control in order to put this right. One problem is that they are not yet mature enough to know how to do this, or to recognise what it is they are seeking to create.
The sweet point with the Asserter is to appeal to their natural sense of justice and fairness, and harness this to encourage them in taking responsibility for the success of some of their classmates. Asserters see themselves as fighting on behalf of the underdogs. They can be a fierce opponent but if you can make them feel they are a trusted lieutenant then you will have their loyalty. In the process, with a bit of luck, you will have helped them learn how to harness the fire in their belly creatively and constructively.
> The Type Eight Student: The Challenger (Asserter)
> Unspoken Words – a story about three students including an Asserter
> Translating the Unspoken Words – seeing the conflict through enneagram eyes