“Ancora Imparo”: Learning Self is the New Teaching Self

I remember the first day I was called “Hoca” by a student in 2014 (Hoca (or Hodja) is the way students call teachers, instructors, and professors in Turkey) when I was an undergraduate TA. I felt myself in a very important position, on a very important mission. As a teacher’s daughter who had been referred to as “Figen Hoca’s daughter” in the past, I was called “Ipek Hoca”. “I am finally doing something important”, I said to myself. It was one of those turning moments that happen and change peoples’ lives. I became “Ipek Hoca”.

That moment had a large influence on my decision to get a master’s degree and apply for an assistantship. I had two objectives in my life: continuous learning and making an impact. Both research and teaching were perfect fields to realize my purpose. When I started my assistantship, it was very similar to starting a brand-new game from level 1. At first, I found it very straightforward. I would study for the class material, do one-hour recitations, hold office hours to answer questions, prepare, proctor, and grade the quizzes. After a month, when I had students questioning my justification on a report grade for half an hour, I realized that I leveled up in the game. After doing some thinking, I realized that my instructions for the report were not clear enough nor was my rubric clear enough for the students. I worked on my mistakes and tried to correct them over time. After a few months, I leveled up again when I resolved a conflict in the classroom. That conflict made me realized that inconsistencies in the instructions of different TAs of the same class and even different homework assignments may cause unexpected confusion. While students are performing a confrontational action, I calmly explained the inconsistency and told that I will resolve the problem. After I resolved the problem, I made sure that consistency is maintained throughout each class that I taught (or TAd). Another takeaway is that the Hoca should always take control of these situations. In fact, Hoca should be the one to control when she has the control and when she does not.

While I was experiencing various events, gaining experience points, and leveling up in the game, I constantly tried to learn and revise my style to become a better teacher. I tried to be the approachable teacher while maintaining a level of authority, keep overall fairness while responding to the needs of the individuals, and challenge students to learn while not making the learning experience overly difficult. After 5 years of experience, what I realized is that teaching experience is nothing but the learning and continuous adjustment to keep the delicate balance in these three aspects: attitude, fairness, and difficulty. This requires the continuous monitoring of the students and the course, reflecting on the past and learning from it, and being open to continuous improvement.

“One moment”, I said to my teaching self, while I was reflecting on my past. “I am not the teacher, I am the learner”. I’m the researcher and the teacher; and just like what Michelangelo said at 87, learning is the most important part of this journey. That’s why the primary goal of my teaching self is to learn and improve continuously and make a difference. And that’s why learning self is the new teaching self.

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