Finding My Authentic Teaching Self

At the time of writing this post, I have not taught a college class before, however, I am on my third semester as a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA). I believe that the journey of realizing someone’s authentic teaching self is a process that could start way before they formally become a teacher. I have always practiced the idea that the best way to reinforce a concept that you learned is by teaching it to others or “While we teach, we learn” as Seneca said. By doing that with colleagues and friends, in academic and non-academic settings, I unintentionally began my journey of exploring my teaching self. In addition, being a GTA has been providing me with valuable insights into my teaching approach that I am using today as basic ingredients to refine my teaching self while being as true to myself as possible.

Popularity vs. Authenticity 

As I read Sarah Deel’s post, the point that resonated with me the most was the one about popular professors. I also used to think that a reasonable goal would be to become a popular professor. I thought that by analyzing well-liked “comedian” professors I can reach a formula to recreate their style to become successful, perhaps that was due to the fact that they were the most memorable professors, and students liked them and engaged in their classes. As I reflect more on this point, not all my favorite professors were the popular/comedian type and vice versa! What my favorite professors had in common is that they were being themselves which allowed them to be authentic and teach effectively.

In my continuously evolving analysis of my favorite teachers, I found that regardless of their personalities, they shared some common threads that contributed to their success as effective educators, at least from my perspective. For example, they notice the progress of each student individually, they actively seek feedback from students (verbal and non-verbal), and they make the learning experience a two-way communication as opposed to a passive audience watching a rehearsed lecture. The latter point is where they are able to humanize the relationship with students, each one of them gets to make teaching an extension of their personality, comedians would crack a relatable joke or laid back professors would tell an anecdote.

Shaping my Teaching Self

I think that the next stage of exploring my authentic teaching self revolves around taking the principles of successful examples and apply them to myself while still maintaining my personality. I found that what has been working for me is stepping outside myself and ask some basic questions: does what I say make sense in the context of what we discussed so far? Does it leave room for engagement? Is it challenging enough to strike interest? Interacting with students during office hours is currently my chance to apply this method to help me discover my authentic teaching voice, additionally, I used feedback from students at the end of the semester to refine my style.

The Classroom is my Stage(🤔?)

As I think more about essential elements that make up a teaching self, I find that consistency is a good one to include right next to authenticity and being approachable. Even though I strive to remain as authentic as possible, I think that just like a performer or a musician, a professor needs to hit certain “notes” to create an effective and engaging learning experience.

The “Tips on Finding Your Teaching Voice” by Shelli Fowler resonated with me in the comparison between performance and teaching. I find that there is a lot of transferable  skills and techniques between the two, teaching is an art in the end of the day! Being a part of a music ensemble that performs on a regular basis since 2015 in addition to other occasional performances from time to time, I can relate to similarities when it comes to the stresses associated with both acts, being under the spot light. Warmup techniques are extremely helpful. However, teaching is different than performance when it comes to your audience, we need to think of students on an individual basis and provide them with the tools that they can use to learn the most efficient way that works for them, so the feedback loop is a lot more active. In music performance for example, you need engagement, but the expectation is often that the audience is here to receive what you are presenting to them, so you often think of the audience as a collective.

 

Mission Statements of Higher Ed Institutions: Reflection Post

In this post I will be discussing mission statements of two universities, The University of Jordan and the University of Stuttgart. I have attended The University of Jordan for my undergraduate studies in Civil Engineering, therefore, I have a good level of familiarity with the institution. I chose to look into the University of Stuttgart because a friend of mine attended it for his master’s degree, he also earned his bachelor’s degree from The University of Jordan. My friend and I had many discussions in the past about his academic and campus life experiences in both institutions and that motivated me to write this post.

The university of Jordan

Located in Amman, the capital city of Jordan, The University of Jordan is a public university and is the largest and oldest institution of higher education in the country [1]. The university consists of 24 schools with various disciplines of sciences and arts[2]. The total number of students enrolled was 50,000 during the 2019/20 academic year. Their mission statement is [3]:

  • Providing students with fulfilling learning experiences, conducting knowledge-generating research, and building firm societal ties, within an environment that is attractive and financially stable, and conducive to creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship

What stands out, at least to me as a reader, is that the university is aiming at balancing their focus between different aspects of their role as an institution.  One can see four broad themes in the mission statement: learning, society, financial stability, and creativity. It was interesting to find a “financially stable” environment mentioned in the mission statement, however, it reflects on a lot of the financial challenges that continue to face both students and higher education institutes in developing countries such as Jordan. Based on my experience, the university adopts a model where they introduce a trade off to keep education affordable by limiting campus facilities and non-academic activities/resources available to students compared to academic resources. In my opinion, the last part of the mission statement is forward-looking in the sense that strong academics can fuel innovation in the future.

The University of Stuttgart

Located in Stuttgart, Germany. The University of Stuttgart is one of the oldest technical universities in Germany with highly ranked programs in civil, mechanical, industrial and electrical engineering. During the academic year 2019/20, a total of 24,540 students were enrolled in all 10 colleges within the university[4]. Their mission statement is[5]:

  • The University of Stuttgart is a leading, technically-oriented German university with a global presence.
  • Basic research that is both insight-oriented and practically-relevant is the key to its functioning.
  • The University educates not only outstanding experts in their chosen domains but also personalities who think globally and interactively and act responsibly for the sake of science, society, and the economy.
  • Through its research and teaching, it fosters the general welfare and contributes to economic success.
  • As an employer, it creates space for diversity and equal opportunity as well as fair treatment for all – regardless of status, age, ethnicity and gender.
  • The University of Stuttgart advocates for open-mindedness, individualism, and community spirit. Thanks to this culture of integration, it is able to create and pass on knowledge for a responsible shaping of our common future.

The university of Stuttgart seems to bring forward their global presence and strength as a technical university, this is closely tied to its reputation in certain fields such as advanced automotive engineering and industrial engineering. Keeping in mind that Stuttgart is the home of notable companies such as Mercedes-Benz and Porsche which influences the culture of the institution to be technically and economically oriented.

The university of Stuttgart’s mission statement also includes the contribution to economic success, my interpretation of this point, after reading their strategic goals, was that they want to equip their graduates to be attractive for future employers of a global scale. This part stood out to me when I compared it to the University of Jordan’s statement, it shows how universities in an advanced economy think differently compared to smaller, developing economies.

The University of Stuttgart addressed inclusion for both students and employees in a specific manner to show their commitment to diversity, perhaps because Germany is the second most desired immigration destination in the world after the United States [6]. The university of Stuttgart’s efforts in community spirit can be seen through programs that promote diversity such as the cross-cultural mentoring program [7] which encourages German students to interact with international students. On the other hand, The University of Jordan has a similar program offered only for students of “Arabic for Speakers of Other Languages”, that is most likely because those students make up the vast majority of international students on campus.

References

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Jordan

[2] http://www.ju.edu.jo/Pages/AboutUJ.aspx

[3] http://www.ju.edu.jo/Lists/Strategy/Strategy.aspx

[4] https://www.uni-stuttgart.de/en/university/profile/figures/

[5] https://www.uni-stuttgart.de/en/university/profile/mission/

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immigration_to_Germany

[7] https://www.student.uni-stuttgart.de/en/participate/mentoring/