Of all of our readings for this week, I enjoyed Dr. Fowler’s “The Authentic Teaching Self and Communication Skills” the most. It summarized my own experiences with teaching well. I’m in a fairly unique position this semester as an instructor. I taught labs for two semesters when I started my MS in 2013 and 2014, and now I’m teaching labs again in 2017 as part of of the requirements for my PhD program. I am having such a different experience this time around! Granted, this is a different institution and the course material that I’m responsible for this semester is also very different, but I don’t think those are the only reasons. When I think back to when I first taught, I was 23 years old and was just getting started in this world called academia. I was barely removed from my students in age and experience and pretty introverted. I had very little experience giving public presentations, let alone being seen as any sort of authority figure. Being responsible for 75 students a semester and getting called “professor” on a regular basis made me uncomfortable and anxious. Who was I to be teaching these students? Inexperience and impostor syndrome combined to make teaching incredibly stressful. Of course there were amazingly rewarding moments where I connected with students on personal levels or saw them improve over time, but those often felt overshadowed by my own frustration and resentment, stemming in the end from a lack of confidence I think. I was relieved when my teaching responsibilities were over, but also saddened. Teaching and sharing knowledge are so important across disciplines, so I wanted to do so much better! I wanted to enjoy it! I hoped that I would have the opportunity to try again.
Over the next couple of years I was consumed by my MS research, but I did have many opportunities to practice speaking and teaching in both formal and informal settings. With every presentation, I slowly but surely went from blindingly anxious, to nervous, to just some butterflies 30 seconds before the talk. In the moment it didn’t feel like I was making that much progress, but apparently I was! This became especially apparent when I started teaching again this semester. I don’t get nervous at all. It is mind-blowing to me the difference between now and then. I think my lectures must come across more clearly and the students genuinely seem to be enjoying themselves. As I mentioned before, there
are definitely differences between the course I’m teaching now versus the one I taught in the past, but I don’t think that it’s entirely due to that. I think I am more comfortable with myself as a speaker and instructor. I speak with confidence from my own experience during my previous degrees, my studies now, and my life in general. When I talk about the scientific method, interesting insect species, or the things that can (often humorously) go wrong during field work, I use real examples from my own research. I try to present myself as honestly as possible. I am unafraid to laugh with my students when I flub the pronunciation of a scientific name or if make some other relatively trivial error. No one can get everything right all the time! I try to leave space for both myself and my students to improve. I am both unapologetically sarcastic and prone to making cheesy jokes. This is as much for my entertainment as it is for theirs. I know that the material that they’re learning is tough, but it doesn’t have to be torture, and neither does teaching itself. As an introvert, I never thought I would get so much satisfaction from public speaking. I can report that I am enjoying teaching much more this time around, and would happily teach again in the future.