As I read Finding My Teaching Voice by Sarah E. Deel, I was stuck by a couple of similarities between she and I within the first few paragraphs. First, her first teaching responsibility was for three sections of an introductory biology course – I am currently a TA for three sections that are about the same size. She then went on to explain her experiences with teaching. Coming from a small, liberal arts college where teaching was emphasized, she came to appreciate the craft of teaching that she experienced there. Like Sarah, I went to a small teaching focused school, and like her, I gained a high level of respect for the teachers and mentors that I experienced as an undergraduate.
However, as the author continued to write her post, I realized that our paths were far from the same. She explains, “In truth, who I am is rather earnest, intense, and detail-oriented, with just a faint hint of dry humor that goes unacknowledged by my students.” As she wrote about her lack of humor and the value she placed in details, I realized that she and I seem like very different people. Though I started reading her post with growing excitement thinking that we shared a common path, I gradually started to wonder whether Sarah and her post had any useful nuggets of insight at all. But just as that pessimism crept in, she explained that success in teaching comes from leaning in to your authentic self.
“I hadn’t considered that certain qualities described me (like my earnestness or attention to detail) could be a legitimate part of my teaching voice. Moreover, I could not construct my teaching voice from other people’s qualities, no matter how much I admired them.” What I realized is that while Sarah and I were not the same person at all, I could still admire her and her approach to teaching. Sure, the strategies that we will use to be successful will likely differ starkly – but when our approach is guided by caring about students and sharing our passions with our students, the opportunity for successful pedagogy will present itself.
And while Deel’s post made me feel good about my prospects of finding my true teaching self, it also gave me a moment of pause. I very much appreciated the ‘popular’ teachers throughout my education so far, and I would be kidding myself if I said I did not desire to be well-liked. But I’ll need to keep reminding myself that being effective needs to always come first, and that being respected will lay a better foundation that just entertaining my classes!