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.