My Authentic Teaching Self

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!

9 Replies to “My Authentic Teaching Self”

  1. Hi there.

    I really enjoyed reading your journey on how you relate to Sarah Deel, and how you still found something insightful even though you ended up realizing that both of you had very different experiences. I agree with you completely on the idea that being “popular” is not the ultimate goal of a teacher. I think when one strives to become an effective teacher, I think the popular part may follow.

    All these stemmed from my experience that many students evaluate teachers based on how “entertaining” and “fun” the teachers are, and I think that’s missing the larger point of being in a classroom, and also give unnecessary pressure to teachers who may not have similar personalities and conduct as those who are more outgoing (like how Sarah Deel experienced).

    In the end, I think it is important to constantly reflect on yourself to know about who you are, and leverage that to be your authentic teaching self.

    1. Thanks for the comment KJ. I do fear for my teaching reviews a little bit, but I’m okay with not being entertaining – so long as I was effective!

  2. I appreciate your willingness to critically evaluate how your teaching self may be very different than Sarah Deel’s while still respecting both. It can be difficult to compare and contrast your own personality or teaching style, especially with someone who is being used as a reading in a pedagogy course! However, these differences are what make every classroom experience unique. If we are our true teaching self, we can be the most effective as teachers.

    Like you mentioned, the most effective teacher aren’t always the most “popular.” Looking back at my own experiences in classes like this, I often appreciate classes more on how much I learned rather than how much I enjoyed it. I remember classes for how effective teachers were, but I remember teachers for how much I enjoyed their teaching style.

    I think it is important for us to find the happy medium that doesn’t compromise efficacy for entertainment.

  3. Thank you for sharing your reflections about the reading. I found Sarah Deel’s article informative. However, I agree with you on that there is definitely subjectivity in certain insights she provided. Still, as I ponder on the reading and try to connect her arguments to her personality and experiences, just like you said, I realized that the gist of the reading was the uniqueness of our authentic teaching self and its fit to our personality traits. Just like a dress (or suit), the best one will be the one that is specifically tailored for us, not the one we buy from the store.

    1. Thanks for the comment, and I like the metaphor. Getting a suit or dress tailored might cost more money, but it is worth the extra – tailoring our teaching styles is the same, and should be a worthwhile investment!

  4. I appreciate your honest commentary on Deel’s post. I specifically related to the qualities of being earnest and detail-oriented. Now I am curious how you would describe yourself.

    Thank you for sharing your “nugget” from this reading. I, too, enjoy taking classes from entertaining teachers. However, I affirm both your learning and Deel’s point, that effectiveness should be our primary teaching goal. I hope your TA experience for three sections goes well and at the end of the semester you find you were effective!

    1. I’m a big-picture concepts kind of person. After my first committee meeting, one of the biggest pieces of advice was to remember that “the Devil is in the details” – so I guess I’m trying to become more of a detail person as I continue in my program!

      Thanks for the comment and your positive vibes – I really hope to be effective this semester!

  5. Thanks for your good comments on the text. I liked how you compared your journey to that of Sarah Deel. Particularly, I found interesting your comment that “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”. I think this was one of the important points we should have learned from the text, and it goes back to not overlooking the fundamental aim of teaching over the ornaments we might use to make it more effective!

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