My personal teaching evolution

So in thinking about this week’s post, I wasn’t exactly sure what to write about.  I asked myself, “How do I know what my authentic teaching self is because I am just starting my career as a counselor educator.”  But after going through the assigned readings for the week, I felt myself associating with a lot of the faculty experiences and suggestions.  I had to remind myself that my teaching experience began over 15 years ago.  I started helping my karate instructors lead classes when I was only about 12 or 13.  A few years later, I was one of the senior instructors at that karate studio.  Teaching karate classes was such a special experience to me that was engaging both mentally and physically.  But since that time, my teaching experiences have varied drastically!

 

The next stage of my teaching came years later when I worked as a math tutor at the community college I was attending.  That was quite the learning experience also as I had to hone not only my math skills but how to help people individually instead of in groups.  The physical nature of my karate instruction was no longer necessary when teaching a student algebra.  Eventually, several years of tutoring experience provided my supervisors with enough confidence in me that I could teach developmental algebra classes.  It took some adjustments to my teaching style, but it was the same material I had been tutoring people on for a few years.

 

The biggest challenge to my authentic teaching self came last semester when I co-taught my first counseling class.  Up until that point, I thought I was pretty comfortable in the teaching role, but that role completely shifted with a counseling class.  Not only was I not the only teacher at the front of the room (a first for me), but I was no longer meant to be in an expert role.  Teaching math, I was the one with knowledge to impart on the student and algebra usually involves very specific right and wrong answers.  Teaching counseling classes, we encourage the master’s students to not think about counseling as right or wrong because there are so many ways to counsel that are just “different.”  Teaching math, my own personal experiences weren’t relevant to the topic, but in counseling, sharing my own personal and professional experiences was encouraged.  Another random aspect that I never much thought about was where to put my hands while teaching now.  I always had a marker in my hand before and used the board regularly.  Now where do I put my hands?!

 

First image to appear when I googled “sage on stage:”

Image result for sage on stage

So after all these changes, I was shocked that my “authentic teaching self” for math and karate classes actually made finding my “authentic teaching self” for counseling classes more difficult.  For karate classes, I was clearly the higher rank over my students, and respect for those of higher rank was extremely important.  Teaching math, I was the one at the front of the room who had the knowledge the students needed.  Now all of the sudden, I’m NOT supposed to be the one “sage on stage!”  We want to treat master’s counseling students as colleagues and give them the autonomy to develop their own unique professional identity.  And now suddenly issues of privilege in the classroom were on the forefront instead of being an afterthought as before.  All of these changes in my environment made for a much more difficult transition than I expected, and my views on pedagogy have forever been expanded.

 

 

Picture from VT counselor education webpage (different type of learning):

VT Students

Fortunately, there have been some consistencies in my teaching that were touched on in the readings this week.  I’ve found that in each of these situations, good communication skills has been the cornerstone of teaching.  I’ve also valued being genuine, even though different parts of myself tend to emerge in each setting.  I acknowledge wholeheartedly that people taking algebra classes probably only do it because it is required, while counseling students usually feel a call to the profession as I did.  There is no need to pretend about either of those realities.  But the overarching theme that I am taking away from my experiences and this week’s readings is that my “authentic teaching self” is always evolving and must be adapted to the teaching situation.  As hard as these transitions have been, I hope that it has provided me with greater awareness when approaching a class and the abilities to reach out to students’ individual needs.

 

imigraine-tion

I have been stricken with a migraine this weekend, so looking at a computer screen has not been an easy task. But in the spirit of this weeks topic, I decided to use my imagination to still post a blog. I am having my lovely wife type for me while I dictate. How often will we as teachers have to use creativity and imagination to meet our student’s leaning needs? Next time a challenge come you way what is something you will creatively do to figure out an answer ?

Pain in the Ass-essment

Assessment to me has a different meaning probably than to most of the people in the class.  In counseling, assessment can take much of a different interpretation.  Counselors tend to assess for mental health concerns such as diagnosis, suicidal thoughts, etc.  Thinking of grades equaling assessment takes some reframing, but it makes sense because we have to assess performance somehow!

 

Dr. Nelson was talking in class about how grades are varying, originally designed for objects and later people.  I’ve been amazed to see how different the same class can be from one semester to another, one professor to another, and especially one university to another.  One class that comes to mind is a class about Counseling Theories that I have taken several times in various forms and actually co-taught last semester.  I’ve found the lack of consistency to be somewhat frustrating in the past because I thought that there are certain standards in place that keep classes consistent from one place to another.  However, I’m starting to question that after looking at some of these readings and videos this week.  Maybe it is better that each class is a bit different.  Learning shouldn’t be about forming everyone around one way of taking in information but instead tailoring learning to each individual.  The grades may turn out different from one class to another based on students’ various strengths, but maybe that isn’t a bad thing.  The variability from one class to another that I was thinking was a limitation, I am now seeing as a strength.

 

I’ve always thought of this from the framework that standards are to keep professors from missing what is important to be taught in the Counseling Theories class.  But now I have changed my thinking that having too strict of standards and/or assessments for this class would take away from the intrinsic motivation that each of the professors was able to instill in the students.  After seeing the videos from Dan Pink, I recognize that a class like this is a mental challenge, not just a mechanical task in which students just follow the rules.  The “rules” of counseling are not straightforward because interacting with people is never the same from one instance to another.  So for that matter, why should counseling classes be the exact same from one school to another?  Counseling requires cognitive skills that Dan Pink refers to actually makes rewards work backwards.  People perform worse when an increased reward is offered (i.e. a grade).  For that matter, making grades the reward (in theory) should actually reduce performance.  So what I’ve noticed about the professors from these classes, was that grades were just sort of a byproduct of doing the work for class.  It wasn’t about how well students performed on tests but that they engaged with each other and the learning process.  As the Dan Pink video specifies, what is important for motivating people for these types of tasks are: Autonomy, Mastery, and purpose.  Learning to be a counselor requires a lot of autonomy, striving for mastery in the field, and a sense of purpose seems to practically always bring people to work in the mental health field.  You know we don’t do it for the money!  So a lack of consistency from class to class was something that frustrated me in the past, but to quote a few other people’s blogs, “Aha!”  I have found a whole new appreciation for the variety because just like in counseling, the work has to be tailored to the clients (or students in this instance).  Creating an environment where learning comes first (by allowing greater reliance on autonomy, mastery, and purpose) and grades come as an afterthought allows students to develop into counseling professionals.

 

I think back to my undergrad experience, and the main motivator was grades.  By the time I graduated, I had the system pegged!  I did the work, earned the grade, and moved onto the next class.  Granted there was a sense of purpose that I wanted to work in the mental health field, but “purpose” is not what looks good on a college transcript.  But that system I had in undergrad didn’t really work once I hit graduate school.  Doing the work was just part of the experience I came for, and memorizing facts to regurgitate on a test no longer worked.  I’m not sure how other fields of graduate study work, but my experience of graduate education was that I was motivated primarily by autonomy, mastery, and purpose to learn from my professors and peers in order to make a difference in the counseling field.  Grades slipped gently into the background and came more as a byproduct of learning than as the motivator for pursuing education.  I hope to use my experience to be one of those professors that brings out that intrinsic motivation in students, as many have done for me so far.

 

So that is my Aha moment for the week! 😉