Discovering Your Authentic Teaching Self (by looking elsewhere)

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.

References:

  1. Deel, Sarah E. (2004). Finding My Teaching Voice. In Reflections on Learning as Teachers. Ed. Singer, S. and Rutz, C.

3 thoughts on “Discovering Your Authentic Teaching Self (by looking elsewhere)

  • September 13, 2020 at 3:03 pm
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    A professor once told me that as the students, we are essentially his boss! At first this seemed like a crazy concept, but I think it’s an important perspective to consider and ties in well with your suggestion that we should look outward at how we can best serve our students. I absolutely agree that we should approach this from a position of humility (and I think it is very obvious when professors do NOT do that). But, I would also argue that a big part of how you can best serve your students is to present yourself authentically, which you must look inward to achieve.

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  • September 14, 2020 at 4:10 pm
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    I think you raise some key points we all need to consider as future professors. I believe the adaptation process to the changing needs of students is very important. Actually, I explicitly mention that in my post, relating to my short teaching experience, how I needed to utilize some of my traits more than others with different sections of the students to better present the material. Another key point is making it personal. We often mistakenly believe that personalizing matters with students crosses borderlines we must keep. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case, students seem to appreciate and relate to personal stories of professors. This creates that kind of connection, much needed in our classrooms.

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  • September 16, 2020 at 5:47 pm
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    Hey, I really appreciated what you wrote about the need for being student-centered. This idea of being in service to our students really resonated with me because I believe that to be an educator is a privilege. To me, it’s about the notion that students choose teachers because they seek knowledge and want to have a person to guide them and help them achieve their learning goals. There are so many different ways for students to acquire an education that if a student comes to me, I am there for them. It was nice to read about your experiences of good teachers and how they supported you. No doubt you will carry those lessons learned forward in your own practice.

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