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.

2 Replies to “Discovering my Authentic Teaching Self”

  1. Hi Brittany,

    Thanks for your riveting post. I agree with you especially in the regard that some days are harder to teach than others. Since March, it seems like we have been in the middle of a bad dream, and teaching has been a process making that quick but new normal transition to virtual classes. Last semester I had to work with students who were dealing with so much on their plate but at the same time seemingly had lost interest in the class. At times, it felt like tooth and nail trying to keep them engaged and at the same time making sure that they could pass the class. While it was frustrating at times, it was important to show empathy at a time where a whole lot of us needed it, and still do.

    Teaching students will put you in situations where you’ll have to decide on the fly the best way to approach it. Especially in these turbulent times, empathy is key. That doesn’t mean we be pushovers, but putting students in the best position to succeed should take precedence over everything else. Navigating those hard days as a teacher may not seem “fun” in the moment, but may end up being the most meaningful looking back.

  2. That is definitely a difficult situation to be in. But you handled it so well, through clear communications and establishing expectations! This is a clear case of being authentic: being honest about your own boundaries, while being compassionate towards the student.

    It is interesting that maintaining authenticity is actually a balance, when it is usually portrayed as one of the ends of a simple scale. You can lose that authenticity by not respecting students, who by default deserve our respect. But we also would lose authenticity by not respecting ourselves and our work.

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