Can I REALLY Be My Authentic Self While Teaching in the Classroom?

This week’s subject talks about being our authentic selves while teaching in the classroom. I spent lots of time reading and re-reading Professor Fowler’s The Authentic Teaching Self & Communication Skills and several of the points that they mention in the article. Within the outline, I looked deeper into section one, the authentic teaching self. This section posed some tips and questions about what does it mean to be authentic in the classroom. All of the suggestions do make sense to me. However, I’m curious through what lens and worldview this article was written. Does the author take into account the positionality and world view of the different types of teachers? Does the author take into account the campus climate and campus politics? I’m not implying that the author doesn’t, however I do wonder.

Growing up, I knew my skin color was different fro my peers but it wasn’t until I began college that I was a woman and it certainly wasn’t until graduate school that I realized that I’m a Black woman. How I show up to spaces and how I convey my message to my students, while I may mean well, it could be taken in differently if I sound “passionate” (read: raise voice/elevated tone) about a topic. There was an incident last semester in which tone of voice and passion in the classroom (& really in general) came into question. some students responded saying that they don’t respond well to that type of interaction. When a topic means something to me or causes one or more of my identities to come into question, I become passionate when I speak on the topic. I’m not going to apologize for that. This conversation did make me question though, is there a way for my to still convey my disdain/dislike about a subject matter/topic in the classroom while making sure that those around me understand that this not a personal attack against them? This same question then makes me think, can I truly be my authentic self in the classroom, if part of my authentic self is sometimes being passionate about which I speak? Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to be belligerent and in-your-face with my comments. Just because something makes me upset doesn’t mean that I’m always going to get passionate or bent-out-of-shape about certain topics. BUT I also want my peers/colleagues, students and professors to know and understand what means the a lot to me; what makes me uncomfortable, what makes me think twice and unnerves me a bit.

I say all that I said above to ask the question, can I REALLY TRULY be my authentic self in the classroom? At this exact point and time, no I don’t necessarily feel like I can be consistently. And the moments in which I am myself, I feel like I’m being judged. But maybe that’s me being too critical on myself. Maybe I’m too concerned about someone else’s view of me, something that I have no business worrying about.

Aside from those personal thoughts, I think the way that to truly find out what works for you in the classroom is by trial and error. There is no one size fits all to teaching. There are a ton of factors that come into play (e.g. the type and demographics of students in the classroom, campus culture, campus climate, etc.). These thing all play some part at least in how you may possibly present yourself in the classroom. The longer you’ve been at an institution, the less I see these things coming into play.

Okay. I feel like I’m rambling and rant so forgive me. If you made it this far with me, I appreciate you sticking it out and I look forward to reading your thoughts and answer to my main question (read: 3rd paragraph, first sentence).

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15 Responses to Can I REALLY Be My Authentic Self While Teaching in the Classroom?

  1. Interesting perspective and thank you for sharing. I tend to like when ideas are challenged in the classroom as it seems to expand perspectives and facilitate a deeper learning. I can understand how many may not agree. I also think that the way one’s teaching persona is interpreted differs by class – No classroom culture seems to be the same, even with the same course content. This adds further complexity to finding a teaching method that works for all.

    • Tami Amos says:

      Thanks for tor post. I agree, no classroom culture is the same, even with the same course content. The teacher sets the tone for the learning environment. Relationship building must take place. Knowing who you are teaching is key.

  2. Jyotsana Sharma says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts Ashley and I think you ask a question that is very complex (read: does not have a simple answer even though I wish it did). I’ve had experiences with people when being “passionate” about a topic of conversation is seen as something else rather than what its meant to be. Knowing that our identities influence the ways in which we think, feel, and behave I’m not surprised it happens. What I do get frustrated with is when its okay for one person to do so but its not a two-way street. Me doing so = not acceptable. Them doing so = passion. Hypocritical much. I believe that one can try to be there true authentic self AND it will come with challenges, because it is never that simple, is it?!

  3. CorlH says:

    Thank you for sharing your approach. I think that being passionate is authentic, but I can see where others may interpret your passion as an attack. One of my favorite messages that I have learned this semester is that there is a difference between offending and degrading. As long as you are being authentic in a way that is respectful then I do not see a problem.

  4. Whitney Hadden says:

    I really appreciate your comments and perspective on this issue. We are often told to be passionate about our work, and it’s unfair and unfortunate that your passion was viewed in a negative manner. I think Jyotsana was right when she said there was no simple answer. I hope you are able to find a style that allows you to remain passionate and authentic. Your students are lucky to have someone who cares that much about the material they are discussing.

  5. Mary says:

    You bring up such an excellent point. I experience that in my own way teaching in Human Development, and often there are certain topics I have to actively resist being reactive in my responses to students if they say something completely absurd about a topic that is close to me. The topic that I struggle the most with is sexual orientation, because I am not straight. I often have to correct students on their misunderstandings regarding many sexual orientations, and if I use my authentic self in this topic I put myself in a vulnerable position by disclosing. Even though I do disclose to my students, it was a difficult decision to come to, and I realize that some students may not like that part of me. In our current political climate, it is scary to put some aspects of our authentic selves out there because you just never know how people will react.

  6. Armin says:

    I agree with you in many aspects and I had similar doubts while reading the text. I think your points such as “Does the author take into account the positionality and worldview of the different types of teachers? Does the author take into account the campus climate and campus politics?” are quite legitimate. Even each department has its own political atmosphere and you cannot easily be your authentic self in the classroom. By the way, I think the author might have referred to a type of classroom with no political contexts, which at least in academia, is not so realistic. In the best case scenario, the boundaries of authenticity are very limited. All in all, I think authentic learning is more viable and perhaps more important than authentic teaching.

  7. Very interesting topic, thank you! I too agree that being really authentic as a teacher (as well as so many other societal roles) is not an easy task. This is not solely due to our inner weaknesses or fears, but also -as Armin has mentioned- the structural pressures on each one of us. While we all love the idea of being real and authentic as teachers, issues such as freedom of speech heavily depends on the educational system frameworks. So here the question is whether it is at all possible to be truly genuine in our teaching jobs, while there are tons of shoulds and shouldn’ts that we must meet!
    Moreover, when we think deeper, we might ask ourselves what does it even mean to be authentic version of ourselves while teaching? Are not all of us to some extent different in diverse situations? Is not authenticity another “niche market” to sell our educational products in academic markets? Maybe I am just too pessimistic!

  8. Matthew Cheatham says:

    I think you bring up some great points! I think it is important for us to try to be our most authentic selves when teaching, but can understand at times that we cannot be our true authentic self. I feel like it also depends on your audience and how well you know the students or people you are working with, that can determine how authentic you can be in your classroom.

  9. A. Nelson says:

    Yes. You must be your authentic teaching self — otherwise, what’s the point? (We can talk about the overlap between the various dimensions of one’s authentic self (teaching, parenting, etc.), but I’ll just say YES to passion, yes to being outspoken, yes to advocating for the ideals and experiences you hold to be true and meaningful. (Yes to being practical and strategic as well — but NO to accommodating your authentic self (teaching or otherwise) to other people’s comfort zones just because that’s what they expect.)

  10. luisab93 says:

    Retweet retweet retweet! I can’t agree with you more. I feel that way many times and in many situations its about the choice we make and the reactions we will get from them. What and who we could loose and/or gain? When we speak up “passionately” about topics that deal with our identities we may make some uncomfortable but we may also inspire the next voice to speak up. We have to always remember that at least it is something that continues to push me to speak up. It is still sad though that we have to choose and observe when and where we can.

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