Who Am I in the Classroom?

Who do I try to be while I’m teaching? That’s the question. I took my broad categories from Sarah E. Deel’s article on finding her teaching voice and from Shelli Fowler’s authentic teaching self article. As I reflect on five semesters of TAing and then teaching as instructor of record, I try to be:

Authentic (Broadly) – I’m not an actor or a performer by personality. So, I decided early on that I would be myself in the classroom. Each class I plan to have topics to cover and to leave time for discussion. I try to relate to the students in a back and forth way when they ask/answer questions and I try my best to provide nuanced clarifications or supplemental information when students assert things that are, shall we say, not quite empirically sound. I teach in Political Science, so opinion is part of the game but I want opinions of all sorts to be well-informed and thought out. I tell jokes and sometimes they land, sometimes they don’t. Lame jokes are part of my out of the classroom personality so I try to bring that into my teaching. I also try to show when a particular topic/issue/theme is genuinely exciting or thought-provoking for me and, perhaps more importantly, I try to be encouraging when a student brings into a discussion something that makes a connection for them or that they find interesting and engaging.

Prepared – I never walk into class without a plan for what I want to cover for the day. I also try to prepare just the right amount of material for each day. I worry more about running out of material but I also don’t want to assign so much reading that we don’t have time to talk about most (ideally all) of the key ideas. I taught two days a week in the fall (75 minutes) and this semester I teach three days (50 minutes). It has been a learning experience adjusting and understanding how much I need to plan for different length sessions.

Organized – I order my notes typically in the order that the chapter or reading for the day covers the material. I try my best to take each concept or topic one by one and exhaust explanation and discussion of them before moving to the next concept. I taught Israeli history in the fall and so this worked somewhat more organically in that course as I taught the history chronologically while stopping to talk about important themes and events. History seems to lend itself to organization in this way.

Flexible – Even though I try to be prepared and organized I also try to remain open to shifting needs and interests in the classroom. If someone asks a question that prompts 20 minutes of discussion, and therefore we don’t get through all of my planned material, I don’t stress about it. Often the discuss is more interesting than it would have been for me to go through the material. Ideally the students will have done the reading (I live in the real world and I know some ((most?)) don’t) but they have it in any case. They can refer to it for content but the discussion is where hopefully a lot of the learning and critical engagement happens.

Approachable – One of the best parts of teaching is when students come to office hours to chat more about a class topic. It doesn’t happen that often, but when it does it’s really great to connect with the students about the course material, about ideas and issues raised in class and about their individual interests in the course and how it connects to their broader educational and intellectual growth. Because of all of this, I try to remain approachable. Unless I’m running to a meeting, I’m around to talk after class and I try to meet students for office hours (as much as possible) when their schedules allow.

These four aspects, authenticity, preparation, flexibility, and approachability, have (in)formed my teaching style so far, and it’s going well. Practice, as they say, makes perfect and I am approaching teaching as an on-going practice and learning process.

6 thoughts on “Who Am I in the Classroom?”

  1. Being authentic in the classroom is something that I share with you (not that I do not share the other aspects you shared in this post, because I do!). I find it difficult to imagine being an effective teacher and connecting with students if I am trying to be someone I’m not. Sometimes, it means admitting that I do not know everything, and that’s okay. I think your being authentic actually ties nicely with your desire to be approachable, because truth be told, I think students can spot someone who is fake from a mile away, and they will probably have no desire to interact with you if you weren’t authentic. Your students are lucky to have you!

    1. You’re making me blush, thank you! Absolutely, I agree that authenticity is tied to approachability. Your point about admitting you don’t know everything seems so key as well. I definitely try to do that rather than fake my way through answering a question I really don’t know the answer to. I have to assume students appreciate that (and it’s never come back on an evaluation that students think I don’t know enough about the topic!)

  2. Thank you for sharing your teaching experiences. I cannot agree more with the five key words you mentioned “authentic, prepared, organized, flexible, approachable”. They will be very helpful for me in the future when I become a teacher.

  3. Great post reflecting on your personal experience, Jake. I think being flexible, prepared and at ease in the classroom can be felt in your post in which you reflect on your teaching voice. What class are you teaching this semester?

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