Finding my true teaching self: my past journey and my future path

The first time I taught here at Virginia Tech, I was in charge of two lectures for a large class of 300 students. Back then, I had little teaching experience, and I decided to use the course instructor’s teaching style to deliver the material. I tried to follow his unstructured, figure-less and serious way of delivering the material. I think this style might work for a professor with years of experience, but not for a relatively novice instructor. Even though the experience wasn’t that bad, I think I did not perform at my best. The next year, I was in charge of teaching half of the course, and from the first day I decided that I was going to do things my way. I believe that was my first try at finding my authentic teaching self.

Now I know a bit more of how to be my own self to succeed in the classroom. I have a serious side, where I prioritize organization and structure. The carefully designed course and lessons with detailed sequence, make me comfortable and confident when leading a lecture. I’ve actually received positive feedback form my students about the organization of my classes. In the other hand, my “goofy” personality and out-of-the-box way of thinking leads me to use funny examples, personal experiences and interesting questions/facts as examples to decorate my lessons. For example, I sometimes use smiley faces in questions and assessments. I have not received feedback about this part of my teaching, but I believe it helps me feel relaxed and make myself look accessible and relatable.

What is the next step? Every time I’m teaching I’m learning more about myself, my teaching self and what I want to do. For the last couple of years, I have taught the same class: a large undergrad class that covers biochemistry concepts for non-biochemistry majors. I want to have more diverse teaching opportunities to learn about myself and improve my teaching abilities. A smaller class of advanced students, an introductory class for freshmen, an applied concepts course closer to industry’s needs, these are all examples of course environments where I want to find more information about my teaching self. I still have a lot to learn about myself and about teaching, but I know that my ultimate goal is to be a successful instructor and make a difference in my student’s life.

5 thoughts on “Finding my true teaching self: my past journey and my future path”

  1. First–I hope the results of your poll were encouraging and/or helpful!

    It’s encouraging to me that you feel you managed to be a more authentic teacher during your co-teaching year. It feels to me like an especially hard time to be trying to develop your own voice and style, when you’re trading off with another professor who’s very different from you. Aside from “never teach with anybody else’s slides”, I don’t know that I have a good philosophy for how I’m going to muster up the confidence to teach authentically while another instructor is still so involved in the course.

  2. Hey there, I really love the way you discover your authentic teaching self, especially the notion that you want to find your teaching styles in various teaching contexts. I am a firm believer that contexts matter, a lot, and it i s important to always “re-discover” yourself in different teaching contexts.

    Also, I am sorry you had a not great experience when you first teach. Your experience is definitely one of my pet peeves in the high education: students are not trained well to be teachers, yet they are expected to know how to teach from day one. It definitely is consistent with the general culture of higher education and how PhD students are being produced in that culture.

  3. I am intrigued by your journey in academia. Its great that you experienced teaching hands-on and could figure the best way of teaching by practically applying the pedagogical techniques. I am sure you have had your ups and downs during the process of discovering your teaching self, but I am glad that you finally got onto the right path.

    I also like how you categorized courses into smaller class of advanced students, introductory class for freshmen, and an applied concepts course focused on the industry, as a way to learn from different styles of teaching. It is very important to be able to discover yourself in different areas of teaching without being complacent about learning in a new environment.

    Great Work!

    Good Luck!

  4. Teaching a 300 person class as your first assignment must’ve been brutal! Talk about being thrown into the fire, sheesh. The subsequent changes you made speak to your search for authenticity. I really like all of the “small things” you’ve done, like including smiley faces in polls and capitalizing on your goofy wit. From my experiences, the most memorable professors did a lot of small things which added up over the semester. Keep it up!

  5. First, I think it is important that you have had the awareness to think about the question of “How can I be the best teacher that I can be?”. I think it both shows that you actually care about the students, and also you have the motive required to improve.
    Second, I share your idea of having a serious side and a funny side. Seriousness is important to keep things under control and guide the students in the right direction. However, the funny side is also important as it can make the learning process more joyful and effective.
    Finally, I like that you are actively thinking about the “next step” as it reflects you do not get easily satisfied and are trying to really build the best version of yourself as a teacher.

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