Inclusive Teaching: Sometimes you need to have that challenging conversation

For this week, we are focusing on inclusive teaching and how to make every student feel comfortable in your classroom. To me, inclusive teaching means that every student of mine feels comfortable participating in class, standing in front of the class to give a speech, and feels comfortable to sit in my class knowing that they are safe. Most professors I have had go to great lengths to ensure that the classroom is an inclusive environment, even when faced with a challenging situation.

Sometimes, you need to have the tough conversation.

In the communication field, a large portion of research examines race, gender, representation, and communication amongst different cultures. Our graduate classes are small, and are no bigger than 16 people usually. We call them graduate seminars, and spend most of our class time discussing the readings and answering some discussion questions. Often, these discussions tackle challenging and largely controversial topics that are not typically discussed in the classroom. Our seminars are filled with “tough conversations.” Last fall, we were each sharing a life-changing event, and the class ended with many of us in tears.

The tough conversation often yields a better understanding of not only your peers, but also the topic of discussion.

After the video on microaggressions, I realized that a woman’s life is filled with mircoaggressions. As a woman myself for 22 years now, I did not even realize what a mircoaggression against women was. This prompted me to look it up, and took me to this article from The Way Women Work, describing several different kinds of microaggressions that women can experience in the workplace.

The first that they stated was calling a woman a nickname. If we are being completely honest, I thought that this was my own pet peeve that I always hated when men called me “sweetheart,” “honey,” “darling.” The second was that men are often described as “young and promising,” when women are often described as “young and inexperience.” I remember reading somewhere that a woman will not apply to any job that she feels she is the least bit unqualified for, and a man will apply to jobs that he feels he is remotely qualified for. Maybe this is a result of the way that we describe young woman as compared to how we describe young men? The other microaggression that stood out to me was men superiors getting in a woman’s personal space without permission. I once had a boss that would constantly lean over my shoulder and rest his chin on my shoulder, which would make me very uncomfortable.

These may be instances in the workplace, but it is imperative to be mindful of these microaggressions when teaching in the classroom as well. Students from all walks of life are going to be walking into your classroom, and you must be prepred for any lived experience a student can carry, as well as the unlived experience that a student has. A student with no similar lived experience can sometimes cause more damage than a student that has experienced many microaggressions.

In undergrad, I was in a women in American politics course. It was a class of 20 women and three men, and two of the men hardly spoke. The one man that spoke felt that it was necessary to state…aggressions, not even microaggressions at the class against women. And he had a girlfriend. The professor would listen to his opinion, then open it up to the class, where he would get it handed to him daily. I cannot imagine that every woman in the class was able to brush off his comments, though, and sometimes they cut deep.

As a teacher,  it is imperative to consider that your actions have consequences–even the smallest thing you do. Homero put it best a few weeks ago, when he stated that someone in your classroom is always looking up to you. You are always a role model. The inclusive classroom is yours to make.

 

Discovering my Authentic Teaching Self

For this week’s blog post, we were to take a look at what we think is our authentic teaching self. I have spent the week pondering this question, as I have found that my authentic teaching self is something that I pride myself on. It took me a long time to find my authentic teaching self, and I am glad on where I have landed so far. With that being said, I am cognizant of the fact that teachers are learning just as much as their students, and that each day can present a new challenge. I find for me, staying true to my authentic real-life persona is the best way for me to teach my students and develop a connection with them. Deel’s notion of remaining true to yourself reigns true to me, and is imperative in creating meaningful relationships.

To start this blog post, it is appropriate to begin at the start of my teaching, where I was sitting in training. We were going over what it means to be friends versus friendly with your students, how to make your personality shine through without being overbearing, and allowing your students to feel comfortable around you without thinking you are a pushover. I was immediately faced with a predicament: I am a tough personality to like if you do not take the chance to get to know me. I was suddenly faced with so many fears I had not had before: How would I get my students to like me? Would it matter at all if they liked me? Is it better to be feared than loved? What are the repercussions of maintaining your personality in the classroom?

The truth is, the answers to these questions did not come until I was face-to-face with my students in my classroom. There is something to be said about the feeling of 40 pairs of eyes staring back at you, simply wanting to learn. My personality was not something that was shoved to the side, but was rather secondary compared to my ultimate mission of getting the students the information that they needed to succeed in the course. In my experience, I stepped into my classroom on the very first day and knew that it was what I was meant to do for the rest of my life. Granted, I understand that not everyone feels that way. For some, teaching is a “side hustle” that is required for you to conduct your research.

Following the first day of class, I thought that my teaching persona would be set in stone–each day, I would come in and be the same person that I was before. Fast forward to my second year of teaching, and I have realized that some days are harder than others.

Just today, I had to have a tough one-on-one conversation with a student of mine. The student had been logging into Zoom meetings, but would turn off their camera and walk away from the computer, not paying attention to the class. Today, the student was asked to participate in an in-class activity, and they stated that they “had not been paying attention this whole time, and did not know what was going on for this entire unit,” and asked if I could explain what this speech was supposed to be about, which had been reiterated many times throughout this week. Recorded lectures were also posted as well as PowerPoints. When considering your true authentic teaching self, this was a very challenging position to be put in. As for my teaching persona, I pride myself on keeping a very nonchalant environment in class while also maintaining my authority. I definitely did not want to lose my mind on this student, but also wanted other students to know that this was not okay. My official response was asking him to stay after class, and to be the last one that was left on the Zoom call. Once there, I told him that if he was not going to be attentive in class and constantly be distracted, there was no need for him to come to class. He followed this up by asking if I did not want him there, which I found baffling. His attendance in my class does not effect my grades, nor does it make me lose sleep at night. Nonetheless, as a teacher, I want him to learn the material, and understand that not everything boils down to a grade for me. We ended the conversation on good terms.

As a teacher, professor, or any other mentor, you are constantly faced with challenging decisions. Sometimes, these decisions come down to the question: “What is my authentic teaching self?” Sometimes, this question requires you to dig deep not only into your teaching self, but into who you are as a human being. For me, I am a human being with empathy, humor, a work ethic, and compassion. It is imperative that I show all aspects of myself in the classroom, to create meaningful relationships with my students. You never know who is looking up to you, no matter how little you feel your decisions matter. One small decision on your behalf could inspire a student to make a life-altering decision.