How Teaching Art Is Like Being a Professional Wrestler

Recently, I made the mistake of telling my students that my older brother is a niche celebrity in the world of voice actors. He’s worked on animated shows, video games, and even has done some work in television and film. This led to an entire class period being wasted as all my students looked up my brother on IMDb. “Jeez Mr. McCormick, your brother is way cooler than you are. How does that make you feel? Do you ever wish you were as cool as him or had a cool job like he did?”

Thanks guys! But seriously, I did tell my students that no, I don’t wish I had his job because I have the greatest job in the world. Being an art teacher has truly transformed my life. It allows me to be the best version of myself I can be.

For this reason, I liken being an art teacher to being a professional wrestler.

Andrew's head on professional wrestler's body

Perhaps I draw this parallel because I’ve always been a fan of the grandiose silliness of professional wrestling. I grew up in the heyday of Hulkamania. In graduate college, I wrote a very serious visual culture dissertation on gender identity construction and the world of professional wrestling. I dragged my loving and patient wife to Buffalo Wild Wings every month to watch the newest Pay-Per-View event all in the name of research… for two years! But to be honest, I don’t think it has to do with my own personal feelings towards wrestling.

author dressed as professional wrestler
Okay. I do really, really like professional wrestling though!

Good teaching is an art form. It is a performance. It requires presence, charisma, attitude, swagger, and a persona.

When I’m really in the zone while teaching, I’m acting.

Being a teacher amplifies my greatest qualities and turns down the volume on my faults because I need to be great for my students. In the same way, wrestlers can’t just be average, they have to be over-the-top. To emote and connect with their audience, they have to be larger-than-life. In 11 years of teaching, I’ve never once been truly upset with a student. But, I can give them a look that can absolutely stop them in their tracks! That’s acting. I can take a room of 22 unruly middle school students and get them to all be quiet with a snap and wave of my hand. I’m not that good in real life.


Here’s another example. When I’m tired, or stressed, or uncertain, I can’t be that guy. I cannot let those emotions show. My students deserve better than that. So I become a better version of myself. I strut a little harder. I get a little louder. I tell stupid jokes at my own expense to hook kids and lighten the mood. I stay abreast of the day’s pop culture. (Sorry y’all, I don’t sincerely have an opinion on whether the new One Direction album is better than the new Beiber album.) I stay present and relevant to trick my kids into loving school again like they did when they were in kindergarten. That’s acting–the performance. That’s pro-wrestling.

When I get on these rants and I tell people teaching is like professional wrestling, I’m usually met with bizarre looks. But, here’s where it all clicked for me. At my first job, I was a part-time elementary art teacher…on a cart. The school only had storage for my cart on the bottom floor of the school. It was tucked quaintly into the closet that was my designated storage space. The biggest problem with this arrangement is that all my classes were on the top floor of the building, and there was no elevator. Every other day for four years, I relied on the help of the school’s custodian to help me lift that loaded art cart up (and down!) two flight of stairs.

I’ve never met a man that was more right brained in my life. Basically, he was the opposite of me in every conceivable way, yet we got along great! One day, he must’ve seen some exhaustion or frustration on my face, maybe both, and he gave me a bit of wisdom that has stayed with me ever since. We got to talking, and I was a little fried about something. He said, “Whatever it is… whatever it is that’s bothering you, just pour yourself into those kids. Pour your energy into those kids, and it’ll all be fine.” By my nature, I’m a pessimist, but being a teacher has given me the persona and attitude to see the goodness in all my students.

I’m so thankful being an art teacher has given me this ability, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I wouldn’t even trade it for something that my students think is cooler!

Dave Burgess wrote the book Teach Like a Pirate. Clearly we could add “Teach Like a Professional Wrestler.” Do you see any unusual parallels to being an art teacher? How would you fill in the blank? Teach like a…

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Andrew McCormick

Andrew McCormick, a STEAM, PBL, and tech integration specialist, is a former AOEU Writer and middle school art educator.

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