Three years later: Teaching with a voice

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

This katydid is a member of the family Tettigoniidae (unless you completely mispronounce it in front of an audience)

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.

3 thoughts on “Three years later: Teaching with a voice”

  1. From what you described in class, your course sounds like it is challenging and rewarding for your students. I think that must have much to do with your confidence as an instructor. You know what you are teaching which makes it okay to make mistakes and to put yourself in the background. I am sure that your students enjoy your course and their chance to discover the science for themselves.

  2. “I am both unapologetically sarcastic and prone to making cheesy jokes.” — story of my life. I think that your attitude will help students see that you’re a real person and that you also see them as real people. I really enjoyed reading about your evolution from anxious teacher to full on “let’s do this” mode teacher. I think that this speaks a lot to the value of practice, getting comfortable in your own skin, and owning your cheesy jokes.

  3. Sounds like you have done a great job of discovering your teaching voice and making teaching your own! I, too, have found the benefit of feeling more comfortable with other types of presentations. With a modicum of preparation, I feel like I could step up to a podium, engage with an audience, and deliver a message without relative confidence, because this is what I do! Thanks for sharing your experience!

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