The Authentic Teaching Self – Always a Work in Progress

It is almost absurd to think that the majority of teachers teaching below the collegiate level typically have years of training, whereas some collegiate teachers merely have a class handed over to them even though they may have zero teaching qualifications. Similar to what was said in Finding My Teaching Voice, I feel that many collegiate professors only know about teaching what they have experienced themselves. This can be both a good thing and bad thing. Some of the practices used by my teachers and professors throughout the years have really stuck with me and are applied into my own teaching. However, I would say with confidence that we have all had what I would consider to be bad teachers, or at least ones that implemented bad teaching practices.

The whole “being a well-liked female professor while still maintaining authority” thing really resonated with me. Especially being fairly close in age to the students, I find it important that they respect me as an authoritative figure, while still feeling comfortable enough to have authentic conversations with me. After all, I feel like I’m there to help them in whatever academic capacity I can. This is what I told my students the other day when I subbed my professor’s class – that I am here to talk with them about internships, graduate school, etc. in addition to the class itself.

For my Graduate Teaching Scholars class, one assignment required students to read Parker J. Palmer’s The Courage to Teach. Although at times a bit monotonous, this book did a great job at discussing one’s authentic self and the importance of this in the scope of teaching and shares a few ideas with Sarah Deel’s article. How cool is it that while our students are trying to figure out who they are, we, as teachers, are also doing the same? The past couple of years I have become more reflective as I read more and more about authenticity in teaching. I think that authenticity requires vulnerability. Lately, I’ve been more ok with being vulnerable in academic life and life in general. Sometimes it is seen as such a bad thing when I’m beginning to learn that it is actually very powerful.

Although some of these points may seem self-explanatory, The Authentic Teaching Self and Communication Skills document provides concrete examples of how to improve teaching. Through the years I’ve begun to appreciate and become more tuned in to the physical aspects of good teaching. I find myself “hiding” behind the podium sometimes when giving presentations. I’ve worked my way up to walking around a bit. It helps me to relax and typically contributes to having better rapport with students. This is not something I’ve been able to achieve over night. I have been both figuratively and literally taking baby steps. But I promise that practice helps. Good teaching truly is a process where you’re always re-evaluating yourself. It is easy to be hard on oneself through this continuous process, but you just have to be ok with the fact that doing something wrong is fine; you’ll try to do better the next time.

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8 Replies to “The Authentic Teaching Self – Always a Work in Progress”

  1. I read your opening sentence, and I was all in on your post. My wife is a teacher in a long family line of teachers. I’ve watched her get a graduate degree just to take more formalized testing to get a license only to have to repeat this process by taking more classes just to keep this license for several more years. This is just to teach in an elementary school. Frankly, I’m a little embarrassed to even speak with her about teaching because I feel like internally she’s just rolling her eyes at me with a smile on her face. That being said, I realize I’m still learning what it takes to have my own authentic teaching voice. I agree that building confidence speaks volumes both to yourself, but also to the students but is not something that happens overnight. It takes time to re-evaluate and see what works, and what doesn’t.

    1. Jason – I couldn’t agree with you more. My mother was previously a preschool and kindergarten teacher, also working part-time for elementary-high school at times. The amount of work that goes into teaching below the collegiate level is just unreal. I actually have many friends around my age that are in their first few years of teaching and just their social media posts exhaust me. These are the people we leave our children with and expect them to love them. They are helping to foster the minds of the next generation of engineers, scientists, teachers, etc. What a privilege! And then we treat them like dirt. I feel confident in saying that, as I am a North Carolina native, one of the lowest paying states when it comes to teachers in the United States. I’ve also witnessed a new era where instead of keeping good teachers around, schools tend to be more interested in hiring the young ones right out of school to 1. Pay them less and 2. To “mold” them. Maybe I’m just ranting at this point. Anywhooo I’ve had multiple teachers, even in my own department who were just given a class like “here you go.” Now go do something with it. After already spending a year and a half learning about pedagogical practices, I just can’t get over it all.

  2. Thoughtful post Nicole. I agree with Jason’s thoughts as well and I would also like to say that I like what you said about being okay with being vulnerable in your own classes…I think that connects with the Mindful Learning piece too.

    1. *See rant above* tehe.

      Vulnerability always comes up in all of my “teaching” books. I think the moment you say “Ok, I’m going to allow some barriers to come down” rather than resisting, you’re doing yourself and everyone else a favor. Easier said than done right? It definitely helps to have very open and authentic conversations with classmates though. It sets the tone that we all aren’t perfect and we’re all here to help one another rather than to judge one another.

  3. Parker Palmer’s book does have some really good little nuggets, once you distill it all down. I have this book on my list to reread in the summer when I have more patience for flowery prose and time to reflect on these ideas.

  4. I love what you said about being vulnerable. I think too often we think we have to have all the answers especially when we’re starting teaching. It’s okay to not know and we need to show our students that as well as what to do when you don’t know something. I also love that you brought in “The Courage to Teach” from our class as I made the same connection when I did this activity last semester. It’s so important that we teach from our undivided self like he talks about. I had lost this book at a friend’s house and finally got it back so I’m with Bethany on making this one a priority to reread soon.

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