What does my voice really sound like?

Sarah Deel’s thoughts outlined in Finding My Teaching Voice really resonate with me, for a number of reasons, and I find it pretty helpful in gaining insight into how my own personality can contribute to and shape my teaching style.  One major commonality between myself and Deel is our undergraduate educational background at small liberal-arts colleges, and the impact that experience has had on the way we think about teaching and interacting with students.  The mentors and infrastructure in general that fostered my learning and growth, specifically in a setting so supportive and engaging, represent the primary motivation for me that has led me to this career choice.  My former mentors have inspired me to pass on my passion for neuroscience and psychology to others.  I want undergraduates who may have been in a similar position as me, with limited research opportunities readily available, to gain exposure and feel encouraged to seek out those opportunities and dive into the world of research.  But what is the best way to open someone’s eyes and instill this passion in them?

Just like Deel has explained in her essay, my reference point is, naturally, those professors who inspired me so much during my undergraduate years.  How did they inspire and instill passion in me?  The most effective mentors and professors that have shaped me the most were first and foremost approachable and accessible.  Some of them were charming and funny, but in others the most inspiring characteristic was their pure passion for the topic they were teaching.  Flexibility in assessments and assignments made a huge difference for me too.  The classes and professors that were most successful in passing on knowledge used a variety of approaches for their students, and individualized these approaches in many ways.  Sometimes this meant students had the option for the final assessment.  Whether students felt their strengths were in presenting information orally or in using the written word to form a term paper, each student had the option to take advantage of their strengths.  Other times this involved incorporating classroom activities that allowed for multi-modal learning.  Visual learners and tactile learners alike equally benefit from these sorts of activities, giving learners of all kinds the ability to truly absorb and apply information.

Being aware of and maintaining boundaries between myself and others has also been a concern as I imagine myself as a professor, but also as a relatable human in the classroom.  As professor Fowler mentions in The Authentic Teaching Self and Communication Skills, you have to draw the line as the professor to avoid being on the same plane as students, but at the same time must encourage bi-directional teaching and learning.  You have to be open to learning from students, but must also maintain authority.  I think this can be overcome with a few approaches.  On the first day of class, I think it would be worthwhile to introduce myself as a scholar so students can know where I’m coming from and see what I’ve accomplished.  This would not be to brag, but to show students that although I’m a young woman, and I’m laid back and relatable and easy going, I also have qualifications and credibility, and deserve their respect.  This has always been an issue with me, as I believe I can come off as young and spacey sometimes, and I can imagine this being a huge problem if that is the students’ first impression.  From there, as Fowler mentions, building rapport would follow and could be accomplished by getting to know the individual students via ice-breakers, setting the tone of the class, and ensuring transparency in my choices.

So how does my personality lend itself to creating a classroom atmosphere conducive to optimal learning?  What does my voice really sound like?  I think my teaching voice will one day be defined by my preparedness, flexibility, creativity, and general attitude that promotes a trusting and respectful relationship with those around me.  I think above all else, I have the ability and willingness to be truly transparent in my methods.  As Deel discusses, I find value in overviewing my pedagogy, approach to assessment, and expectations for learning from the outset.  I think when students can see and understand professors’ motives behind their decisions, it makes them more approachable and honest right away.