Too seriously, or not seriously enough?

If I had to sum up my authentic teaching self in a bumper sticker, here’s what I’d choose:






As a teacher (and, frankly, as a clinician) humor is my go-to communication tool. I engage in a certain amount of self-deprecation because I feel like it makes me more relatable to my students and because funny examples might help them remember some of the topics we cover. Like Sarah Deel, I came from a liberal arts school that emphasized the importance of teaching and entered a graduate program where the predominant message has been that if I am spending the full twenty hours allotted to my assistantship on teaching, I am spending far too much time. I would consider myself one of Seymour Papert’s “yearners,” someone who bucks against the constraints of typical teaching practices in my department and tries to have fun while working with students in the classroom. This week’s readings, though, made me wonder if what feels authentic to me might be perceived as posturing by my students or could be detrimental. As Deel points out, young female teachers are already at a disadvantage when it comes to being respected or seen as authority figures in the classroom, particularly in the sciences. In my efforts to ease tension in the classroom and engage students in the material, am I inadvertently chipping away at my own credibility?

Shelli Fowler’s guidelines seem very helpful as I pursue my goal of becoming an effective teacher and avoidance of being typecast as an amateur comedian. She makes good points that good teaching is not without boundaries and not the same thing as “edu-tainment.” While I am good about maintaining boundaries with my students outside the classroom (I wouldn’t enjoy a beer with them at FloydFest), perhaps I need to work on establishing more of a sense of authority and credibility within the classroom. It seems that a big part of this process involves becoming very knowledgeable about the material for the day and being able to smoothly tie any examples or activities, humorous or not, in with the point I want to make. I should be careful when choosing my moments of humor to make sure that my purpose is to help the students engage actively in the classroom rather than to get that rewarding laughter after delivery. I will admit that I struggle with being conflict-adverse, but it might help bolster my credibility if I can set and maintain clear guidelines from the beginning that allow appropriate flexibility for lighter moments. Perhaps this will be something that I can practice when working on the syllabus assignment…

And now, another glimpse into my classroom:


(Just kidding.)


Filed under Contemporary Pedagogy

3 Responses to Too seriously, or not seriously enough?

  1. Anne Hilborn

    I really liked the points in your last paragraph. I use humor and try not to take myself to seriously when I teach but probably am on point less than 1/3 of the time. I need to try to tie things in and bring it all back to the concept I am trying to teach, instead of it being a tangent.
    I also like the idea of putting a lot of the guidelines in the syllabus. I really struggle with confrontation, and as a teacher having to enforce the principals of community and mutual respect intimidates me. I hope that if things are written down and explained on the first day of class there will be less chance of push back later on.
    Anyway, thanks for the ideas.

  2. ajwilliamson

    The point you make in the last paragraph seems pretty important to me as well; setting appropriate guidelines from the start – kind of ‘setting the stage’ as it were. Even in a less formal setting than the syllabus, it seems a good idea to at the start of class/semester set the expectation that while a little bit of humour is certainly acceptable, it is a learning environment and your role is to help guide students. If you start with that it may be helpful in keeping you on point as well as letting students know where boundaries are

  3. leva

    I agree that you can’t take yourself too seriously when teaching. A good sense of humor is what students like best, not that I have one, but self deprecating humor that doesn’t make you look too bad is just as good. If your dealing with younger students I think the seriousness should be less, it just creates too much stress in the room. Now if you’re teaching neuroscience a bit of seriousness is probably best don’t you think?

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