The Authentic Teaching Self: Where Do I Start?

Sarah Deel’s “Finding My Teaching Voice discusses Deel’s journey of developing her teaching method. She goes through her experience as a teacher in which she developed her teaching method initially from mimicking teacher she found to good professor to her experiences leading her to discovering that she had to be herself as a teacher. As I was reading and considering what to write for my blog, I found myself relating and questioning myself to her experience.

For the most part I don’t have to the teaching part for my GTA position, I only have to teach review sessions. (And let’s just say that the first review sessions I did in person didn’t go horribly wrong. I mean, I didn’t fall flat on my face, but I highly doubt I impressed anyone and I probably wouldn’t have passed the speech if my cohorts were grading me. Although, I hear that you eventually stop shaking from nerves after speaking in public. If anyone has an idea when that happens, I would very much appreciate knowing when this happens.) I planned and prepped for the review session, yet, Murphy’s law has set the precedence for this semester and I don’t think it will be overturned any time soon. It’s overwhelming at times. All I can think about is the amount of work piling up and there seems to be no way of getting ahead of the storm. I’m still accruing more and more work. This weekend I sent and responded to 201 emails (well, 194 emails from students, 5 emails to professors, and 2 email from an Orioles minion). The good news is I’ve only got 50 emails left in my inbox. The bad news is that I have to add 54 emails to that list or else put them in the danger zone of failing the semester already.

I wish I could throw my email woes aside and think about how to develop a teaching method, but as I look at “The Authentic Teaching Self and Communication Skills,” I’m not sure where to begin. “Be yourself” and ”be genuine” are good pieces of advice, but honestly, right now what does that mean? You want me to be a neurotic, sleep-deprived, control-freak overachiever? How can I be myself when I can’t even figure out how to balance an insane amount of emails with everything else? I know it can be done. I’ve watched my cohorts figure it out and now, it is my turn. I don’t know where to begin at drawing the lines. How do you walk the line between babying students and understanding they are stretched to the max? I don’t think I can develop an authentic teaching self until I experience the basics. However, I do know I can begin to look at what I don’t want to be.

Stephen King once wrote that you learn more from bad writing than good writing. I think this can apply to teaching as well. There is something about a wonderful teacher that is indescribable. They just make everything work. You find yourself embracing the passion they display and you’re inspired to learn and do more with what they teach, but more importantly, it stays with you for the rest of your life. Most teachers are good; they may not change your perception of the world, but they accept you and teach you all the same.

However, bad teachers haunt you for a long time and their shortcoming can impact and hinder your education for years. This is why I think when you are trying got develop your authentic teaching self, maybe the place to begin is discovering who you don’t want to be. Bad teachers come in all different forms. There is the lazy teacher who really doesn’t want to be teaching or the teacher who has no idea what they are teaching and believe that the textbook needs to be read out loud word for word. Some teachers are trying too hard to be someone else and in turn they become not only disrespectful to their students, they become disrespectful to themselves. Other bad teachers are the ones that believe in the “best of their opinion.” They are the ones that show favoritism while they devalue and demean others. You have the good teachers broken into bad teachers by the system and you have bad teachers upheld by the system as good ones while they continue to bully their students. The list could go on. I’m sure our class has plenty of examples and horror stories they could discuss.

Everyone has had a bad teacher and we have all thought “I would never be like this as a teacher.” Maybe the most authentic thing I can do right now is decide on who I’m not going to be. Maybe when it comes to self-discovery as a teacher we need to decide not only on who we want to be, but also on who we know we shouldn’t be as a teacher, because ultimately, at this point in my life, I’m a student, not a teacher. The only way I am going to cross the bridge into being an educator is by knowing what I can be all while still being me.

5 thoughts on “The Authentic Teaching Self: Where Do I Start?

  1. I think you make a good point about how bad teachers can sometimes be more memorable than good teachers. I know we’ve all asked questions like “If you hate teaching, why are you a teacher?” or “If you hate students and kids, why do you choose to teach them?” at some point over our educational careers. I had a professor during my undergrad who treated us like elementary school kids, with a homework box, among other things, and I absolutely despised that. Through the classes I take, I pick up items I want to either include or avoid in my teaching philosophy in the future.

  2. Great post!

    Deciding who you don’t want to be is a great way to start finding your own teaching voice. I think part of being a bad teacher is that people can see that you are not being “genuine,” so everything you try to do when you are being a bad teacher even if it’s good it will sound like a bad action.

    I understand work can be overwhelming sometimes, I don’t know your exact situation but remember that you can use your classroom to communicate as well. If some of the emails you see are being repetitive, you might want to try to address those issues with the larger class.

    Back to how to be genuine, I think is a matter of consistency, leading by example. It’s not something that you learn and implement in some classes, is something that you see as your teaching philosophy. It means to follow through and to always do what you say you will do. I know this is confusing but is one of those things that you develop over time.

    Keep working hard!

  3. Thanks for putting “bad teachers” into this discussion. That’s definitely another perspective in this discussion. While reading your post, it suddenly occurs to me: why bad teachers are still there after years of poisoning their students?

    Part of the blame goes to the system, forcing professors doing things they are not good at. But also, we as students are ( at least, I am) partly responsible for that as well. I am not fully utilize the evaluation system! I find it hard to say bad things about professor, especially a senior/old one. Firstly, maybe they already finished their tenure check and don’t care about teaching and there is nothing I can do about it. Also, he/she is too old to change. What’s more, I am embarrassed that the professor may figure out that it was me giving the low rate, so he/she may give me a hard time later. So every year, when I find the professor is still teaching the class, I feel bad for the those students. I should have done something to change it, but I didn’t. Hopefully, I can give it a try next time.

  4. I’ve got a lot to say about this, but for now I want to thank you for sharing your fears and concerns. It’s much harder to do that than to talk about one’s successes. We should talk about time management and teaching in higher ed. I think it’s one of the more significant invisible elephants in the room of faculty and future faculty. Also, it can take a while to get past the jitters. I’m pretty good after 20+ years, but the only way I survived the first decade was by admitting that I got nervous before class and recognizing that it usually went well even if I was a mess inside. I also realized early on that I usually came out of class inspired and charged up. That made the pre-class anxiety more bearable.

  5. Great post! I appreciate the alignment of learning from others’ mistakes, errors, or experiences to improve yourself. Sometimes we learn best from the error of others, because we have the intention and goal not to be like the individual or make the same inappropriate mistakes or errors as they did. In spite of learning from others’ errors or mistakes, we also learn from our own. In finding your authentic teaching self is part of learning from mistakes or errors collectively and aids in self-growth in realizing what’s right from the errors or mistakes being made. I also like the self-questioning and self-reflection in the post in effort to find a sense of self in identifying your authentic teaching self.

    I also can relate to opening a number of student emails and I have an open door policy in which students take full advantage (I often times regret providing that option) and combining emails + open door/anytime = overwhelming. I can honestly say I’m learning from this experience and your post made me feel like I’m not the only one with some of the same challenges, fears, or concerns. Thank you for sharing!

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