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The DNA of an ESP

Personality Types Often Match A Certain ESP Job Category

Dave Arnold

Over the decades, I have attended my share of national and state education support professional (ESP) conferences. I know ESPs from almost every state and every job classification.


This might seem odd, but it appears to me that folks in each of NEA's nine ESP job classifications have personalities that are tied to their job classification more than to their environment or gene pool.

Our ESP Inner-selves

Bus drivers in Maine behave and think pretty much like their brethren in Kentucky, Utah, New Mexico and Oregon. Food service workers in Florida have more DNA in common with those in Delaware, Texas and Wyoming than they do with their fellow ESPs in The Sunshine State.

At first, I thought this observation was loony. After I developed enough courage to share it with some UniServ directors, I was surprised to learn that they agreed with me. Yes, they said, each ESP classification does seem to contain folks whose personalities are linked to the skills, physical demands, and other characteristics of their job. This might explain in part why you are a paraeducator instead of a security guard or counselor.

But the question is: does the job shape the personality or does the personality acclimate to the job? Were you born to be one type of ESP and not another?

Products of Our Job Categories

I guarantee that if you are around an ESP long enough, you can probably guess their job classification. Still, it bugs me as to why the similarity in personalities exists. You would think that a custodian, nurse, or technical support person working in a crowded inner-city school would have a far different personality than one from a slow-paced rural school. But no. They're similar.

It is a question similar to the one about whether we are products of our environment or of our heredity?

Human Conditioning

This debate has gone on as long as humankind could talk. And there is still no clear-cut answer. Here are three arguments:

One: individuals develop certain interests, hobbies, habits and therefore are attracted to certain jobs related to their specific interest. For example:

  • Custodians and maintenance personnel are generally do-it-yourselfers.
  • Secretaries and bookkeepers typically scored above average in math.
  • School cooks generally are interested in hand crafts and creating.
  • Security personnel are generally outgoing and quick to make friends.

Two: a person's environment (home and work surroundings) will affect their attitude and often shape their personality. For example:

  • According to American psychologist John Watson, studies suggest that an infant can be conditioned to fear things that it has no natural fear of.
  • Harvard psychologist B. F. Skinner's early experiments produced pigeons that could dance, do figure eights, and play tennis. Known as the father of behavioral science, Skinner eventually went on to prove that human behavior could be conditioned in much the same way as animals.

Three: Emily Ann O'Coin of The Rochester Institute of Technology said in her report, "Nature or Nurture: The Inexhaustible Debate," the following:

  • "One's genetic makeup provides the potential for the development of behavior among individuals."
  • "The environment in which one develops helps to shape the person that they become."

Job Family Genetics

Though I don't have definite answers for this puzzle, I'm inclined to believe that the personalities of ESPs are not formulated by their work or study habits. Instead, I do believe that their personal interests do make some jobs more appealing to them than others. When it comes to theories of heredity versus environment, I listen but don't buy into any one theory 100 percent.

Studies of identical twins having exactly the same genetics show that they still develop separate personalities regardless if they are raised in the same environment. I tend to lean toward Popeye's philosophy of, "I am what I am."

At an ESP conference, during a custodial-maintenance round table, a custodian said: "Our jobs and problems are the same. Only the faces, names, places, and size of problems differ."

For a custodian, he sure sounded like a school counselor.

(Dave Arnold, a member of the Illinois Education Association, is a custodian at Brownstown Elementary School in Southern Illinois. He can be contacted at

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NEA or its affiliates.

Dave's View has been discontinued following the retirement of its author, Dave Arnold. Even though new columns will not be posted, we encourage you to review past columns.