The ongoing journey to finding our authentic teaching self

Our perspectives on teaching are often shaped by our experiences as students, which can later nurture from what we go through as instructors and aspiring academics. When thinking about who I aspire to be as a teacher I cannot help but think about the many instructors I have had and the way each of them ran a classroom.  From instructors that simply read what was on a presentation slide to instructors that went above and beyond to make sure students were understanding and following along what was being explained. There are a variety of ways from which one can adapt or develop teaching practices. Who we are when in front of a classroom feeds off what we have seen before and have identified as relevant, useful, and valuable. Pedagogical practices tend to vary, not all the same techniques or structures work for everyone.

My journey with teaching started during my first semester of graduate school. I was a laboratory instructor for an introductory biology course. I had never formally taught before and I must admit I feared not “meeting the expectations”, which at that time I was not sure what those even were. However, I took this opportunity to challenge myself and further question what I valued and considered to have the most significance in a classroom. To me, having an instructor that is genuinely excited to discuss topics every week and open to questions is key to increase and facilitate student engagement, which can often be challenging. One of the very first lessons I got during my first few months of teaching was that I did not have to know it all. This may sound obvious to some, but to me being open and accepting that I did not know everything was crucial to be open to change and evolve as the course progressed each semester. It served as an opportunity to invite my students to learn with me. This also made me feel more human and connected to my students. Whenever a question I did not know the answer to was asked, I would write it down to further investigate and come ready to address it the next time we had class. This sort of exercise allowed me to be honest to myself and recognize my limitations and the areas I needed to strengthen.

I think honesty plays a big role in finding our authentic teaching self. If we are honest about the things we need to improve and what is not working in the classroom we can work towards improving the areas where we are lacking. To me acknowledging early on that there were going to be concepts and questions that I needed to review and learn more about has enhanced my enjoyment of teaching. Additionally, along with honesty we need to recognize that finding our authentic teaching self is a continuous exercise that needs to be revisited often to make sure that our teaching practices are not being done mindlessly and instead we are being mindful of our actions as instructors and their impact in the academic formation of our students.

2 Replies to “The ongoing journey to finding our authentic teaching self”

  1. I really enjoyed your post!

    Like you, my first teaching experience was as a lab instructor (although, I taught a developmental psychology lab), and I share some of your experiences. The points of yours that really resonated with me were being honest with yourself and needing to come to terms with not knowing everything. Personally, when I don’t know the answer to a student’s question, I feel embarrassed. And there is absolutely no reason to feel embarrassed, but it makes me feel like I’m letting my students down. In terms of your honesty point, I don’t think that could be truer. The more honest you are with yourself, the better teacher you will be and more importantly, the more authentic you will be in your teaching style. For example, I know that I’m not funny or witty and I will never be that type of teacher. The type of teacher that I am capable of being is caring and knowledgeable. Going along with this, I think it is also important to know your strengths. If you aren’t good at cracking jokes and getting reactions, don’t waste your energy doing that. It is super important to remember that we need to do the things that make our personalities authentic in creating our authentic teaching self.

    Great post!

  2. Thanks for pointing out interesting points. I still have the same feeling every time I teach; the only thing that changed is that I am aware of it. I believe the teacher’s role maybe is more inspiring new worthy questions rather than answering static answers. Teachers might not know the answers as well, but that is how investigation and inquiries taking place. Evolving students’ questions and formulating a process of critical thinking is of great value and has a significant impact on shaping one’s attitude towards learning. As you mentioned, honesty and being clear with oneself and others play an essential role in promoting understanding. The focus will be then on the inquiry instead of drawing attention to other issues due to being intimidated by a question.

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