Monthly Archives: October 2017

Encouraging Discussion. Emphasizing Gracefulness.

Dr. Labuski writes, “My classrooms are spaces where students are encouraged to hold and express opinions that may not be popular and/or
conventional. I generate intellectual safety by framing discussions around phrases like ‘What do people say about ….’ rather than ‘What do you think about …’ “ (Diggs Scholar Award).

I’m passionate about this. Whether we’re talking about race, gender identity, politics, religion, or anything else, I never want a student to feel that he/she cannot bring up a discussion point or offer a perspective for fear of being ridiculed, isolated, or shunned. I thought about this plenty, especially during the election season. I saw a lot of open hostility between both sides of the political parties, even on this campus. I heard a lot of what I call “absolute rhetoric”–my way is the only way, and everyone who thinks differently is wrong and evil. I saw people who could have been great friends hating each other because of their opposing political beliefs. I still do. It’s terribly heartbreaking.

College can be a time of growth for undergraduates. I truly believe that it is a time to re-examine beliefs and to be open to hearing other viewpoints on many subjects–but really, any time is good for doing that, right?  But for undergraduates, I would never want them to think that I “hate” them because they might believe something not as popular or something that they think I don’t personally believe myself. I’ve always appreciated professors who didn’t openly criticize religions or political beliefs in class because it truly made me feel like they understood the definition of tolerance and did not want anyone to feel isolated, stupid, or irrelevant. This has become important to me as an educator. And I truly appreciate the inclusive strategy that  Dr. Labuski utilizes in in order to make students feel safe in suggesting a particular perspective that may or may not be their own.

This can also be tricky to navigate because I would never want the words of one student to wound the heart of another. I make clear in my syllabus that everyone must be respectful to each other. Delivery, I think, is key when expressing opinions. The English department requires some kind of argument paper as the final paper of the semester. My students will be picking a topic (I’m not sure how narrowly I’m limiting the topics yet) and writing a paper expressing their argument. I will be going over gracefulness in class because it’s something that I maintain is a necessary virtue when explaining one’s opinion. It’s important to remember that when we come across people who believe starkly different things, this is a time for open discussion. Listening and explaining. Sometimes, we forget to listen. We start forming responses before the other person in the conversation is even finished speaking. Often, we aim to win, not to learn. I’m guilty of this myself sometimes, but I truly want to work on being intentional about understanding why and how a person believes the things he/she does. I think the way we can even hope to encourage people to consider changing a perspective begins with making them believe that we genuinely care about understanding what they have to say. Then we follow this by explaining our viewpoints with grace.

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But What If I Feel Like a Fraud?

The topic of the authentic teaching self is a tricky one, especially for those not so far removed from undergrad themselves. This concept of balance–professionalism vs. humanity–stares me in the face every time I walk into the class room. I’m almost a decade older than these students though I like to think that it’s not that visible yet. I like to think that they can’t tell the difference between 23 and 26, so in their minds, I’m not too far ahead of them in years. They know I’m “younger” than some, but I also want them to respect me. Like Shelli Fowler states in her handout, “The Authentic Teaching Self and Communication Skills,” “…As the teacher you are never on a completely equal level with the students, even as you recognize that your students can be both learners/teachers in various moments, and even as your recognize that you can be a teacher/learner” (1).  So again here’s this question of balance: I’m not their equal, but I’m not on a pedestal either.

Like I said, I’ve struggled with this concept a lot. Last fall as GTAs, we were told that it’s a good idea to have a clear boundary with your students. Don’t treat them too much as friends because that opens the door for them to take advantage of you. You know, like that If You Give A Mouse a Cookie-kind-of-story? Last semester, I was super professional with my students, and it worked out very well. They didn’t know that much about me. My professional self was the self the students saw. But even at the beginning of this semester and especially after reading this, I know my authentic self was not as apparent last semester. But then again, I’m generally reserved and quiet with those I don’t know, so coming into the classroom with flashing light shows and vivid personal conversation is definitely not my authentic self. I’m truly trying to navigate the authentic self this semester, figuring out how to be more personal and involved with my students while keeping myself as an authority figure.

But then another problem arises. How can I present myself as an authority figure if I feel like a fraud? Sarah Deel said pretty much everything I feel. As I was reading through “Finding My Teaching Voice, ” I felt so relieved that I wasn’t alone in this situation. While I wasn’t entirely thrown into my classroom, I do feel underprepared, inadequate. I, too, am required to teach papers that I either haven’t written in a almost a decade or have never written at all. I have this overwhelming fear that my students are bored out of their minds and aren’t learning anything or, even worse, that they know I’m a joke. This is that little voice inside my head that likes to tell me that I have no idea what I’m doing. I listen to it a lot because it’s loud. But sometimes that voice of reason finds a way to get a word in edgewise and tells me that I do have a little bit of an idea of what I’m doing and that experience will teach me more.

Aye, there’s the rub. Experience and self-questioning are what I feel is key in both the articles of Deel and Fowler–these writings go together very well. Deel seems to have found her authentic self through semesters of teaching; I don’t think it’s something we know right away. She found what worked for her even if it wasn’t exactly cool or flashy. What mattered was her pedagogy and engaging students, and she found a way to embody that in the classroom. Fowler’s handout gives pertinent questions for me to ask myself to help me “find myself” in the place that is the classroom. The classroom is just as much a learning place for me as it is for my students. What I’ve found out is what I’ll  be trying to implicate more this semester. I’m happy that I already have begun to do so. Being real,  intentionally disclosing appropriate personal information to my students, connecting with them makes them more comfortable with me and probably gives them a more favorable impression of the course. Also, if I’m trying to teach my students not to be automaton thinkers and writers, I shouldn’t be an automaton instructor who shows up to perform the job and appears to have no personality. That’s the worst. I don’t think I was quite like that before (I desperately hope not), but I am working to have more conversations with my students and let me be me.

 


Works Cited:

Deel, Sarah E. “Finding My Teaching Voice.” cte.virginia.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Deel.pdf. Accessed 1 October 2017.

Fowler, Shelli. “The Authentic Teaching Self and Communication Skills.” mynelson.net/grad5114F15/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/The-Authentic-Teaching-Self-and-Communication-Skills.pdf. Accessed 1 October 2017.

 

 

 

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