As I think about the nature of this topic, I immediately recognize the emphasis on the ‘self.’ This introspective analysis seems to be all about me as a teacher. Questions to be asked are ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What is my teaching voice?’ and ‘How will I find what works best for me?’ While I think that these questions are important, I believe that these questions must be secondary. The most important questions should be less inward focused and more outward focused – focused on the students. After all, the students are the reasons why we all (I assume) want to (or have) become teachers. This may seem like semantics and a waste of time to discuss such a thing; however, I think that this foundation is really important. If we start with an outward focus, asking ‘How can I best serve my students?’, then we rightly adopt an initial position of humility. This is important because it gets us as educators thinking about how we were once students who were learning new material and in need of a teacher to help us better understand important concepts and principles. I would argue that starting from this position, we are better able to 1) better recognize and adapt to the changing needs of the students and 2) be authentic individuals that work as effective educators.
I really appreciated a couple of the comments that Sarah Deel made in her blog post “Finding My Teaching Voice.”1 In trying to figure out how to get students involved in classroom activities, she found that simply telling them the purpose behind the activity or exercise seemed to be enough for the students. My interpretation of this was that the students appreciated the honesty of the instructor, understood Sarah’s intentions, and engaged because they knew she had their best interest in mind (even if they didn’t necessarily agree with the activity). I also appreciated Sarah’s reiterated comment from Parker Palmer that teachers are more effective when they bring more of themselves into the classroom. As a student I completely agree with this assessment. Some of the most effective teachers I had during my Master’s work were very personal in the classroom. They told stories from jobs they held previously that helped us to better learn the material. Even just telling personal stories helped me better relate to the professor and recognize that they’re here to push me to become a better engineer and to help me succeed. As Sarah stated, she wanted to seem ‘accessible to students, even if the subject matter was not, initially.’1 What a great way to put it.
In all of this, although Sarah was finding her teaching self, she was outward focused. She wanted to make sure the students were engaged and understood the material. She wanted the students to better understand who she was as a person so that they could feel more comfortable reaching out and asking for help. Sarah was able to find her true teaching self through a consistent outward focus on the students. What a great example for us future educators.
- Deel, Sarah E. (2004). Finding My Teaching Voice. In Reflections on Learning as Teachers. Ed. Singer, S. and Rutz, C.