Finding My Teaching Voice

As I started to reflect on my teaching voice, I first turned to this week’s video lecture given by our professor. I was intrigued by the teaching advice given, especially the piece about mindful use of humor. I consider myself a self-deprecating, go-with-the-flow person; and this is apparent in my teaching style. I have gotten feedback from in-person teaching that I make the topics approachable and create an environment that attempts to reduce bias. For context, I have been Instructor of Record for Human Sexuality three times (in-person, over winter break online/asynchronous, and currently online/asynchronous this semester). This course appeals to students from all majors and backgrounds, which is interesting because sexuality is a taboo topic in many cultures. Since I am aware of this polarization, I use my self-deprecating humor to alleviate tension. Additionally, I have my master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy and I’m an associate licensed therapist. I’d say I’m uniquely attuned to interpersonal dynamics and can facilitate a dialogue in a direct (hopefully, confident) manner, and my modesty around my expertise allows me to connect with a group of diverse individuals.

Furthermore, as I moved onto the article by Sarah Deel, I started to compare my experience to theirs. In my department (Human Development and Family Science) we get a semester of training called our “teaching apprenticeship” within our department. Doctoral students T.A. for Human Sexuality, Family Relationships, and Childhood Development to name a few. While we T.A., we get to guest lecture two classes. Every supervisor goes about this a little differently. Some supervisors will let their T.A. pick the two topics, whereas my supervisor assigned me two topics. I sort of liked my supervisor’s approach because both topics were novel to me and because of this, I felt like I used her feedback to help me refine my expertise in these topics so that my first time teaching on my own I felt more confident. In retrospect, I’m not certain that I would have chosen the same topics if I were given complete agency. I think I would have picked the topics I was most comfortable with so that I could truly express my teaching style without feeling anxious about being a novice on the content. In contrast, Deel reported not having a lot of structure and being assigned teaching assignments without a lot of course preparation.

As I conclude my reflection, the last point to consider is the teaching that I observed and experienced as a student throughout my academic career. A moment that stands out to me as a student was having a professor in my master’s program at Appalachian State University who identifies as a Black man. I am a Black biracial woman and come from a very white, rural town so I had never been taught by a Black teacher in any capacity. He was able to connect with me holistically by considering the context in which shaped my beliefs about the world. He was also very transparent about his identities and, because of this, I find that I now am open about my identities as well because it allows for room to amplify voices that were not previously allowed in these higher education classrooms.

Given that I teach Human Sexuality, I hope I find ways to continue to incorporate “myself” in the class because I think this is important in engaging students, but also in making the content relatable and less daunting. I feel like I have personally lucked out by being in the social sciences, specifically human development, because it makes my job so much easier since everyone goes through their own sexual development as humans. I always ask students why they chose to take this class and I often am surprised by the amount of genuine interest and curiosity in learning more about this topic. If students are already looking forward to the class, I feel it is partially my responsibility to match their energy, but more importantly to encourage growth and success as a result of being in this class.

4 thoughts on “Finding My Teaching Voice

  1. allis96

    Your comments about the Human Sexuality course were very interesting to me, as I also took the Human Sexuality course here as an undergraduate. I felt that my professor was very open about the subject; however, there was not as much of the humor you described, which may have potentially reduced some of the awkward tension that comes from some of the lectures. I think striving to make yourself personable and engaging is a great goal, especially for that particular course.

  2. shanonian

    Thank you Stephanie. I was reminded of my biology class in my 8th standard school back in India. There was a dense silence in the classroom out of awkwardness especially when the process of genetic reproduction being explained. Sex was only taught as part of a necessary biological reproduction, which was one way educators depend on to overcome this weirdness. I think we still don’t have an atmosphere where we can teach sex with its reference of pleasure, power, identity and so on.

  3. billyparvatam

    Hi Stephanie,

    Thank you for your commentary. I was especially interested to learn about another class in the CLAHS which has students of all majors. Teaching Public Speaking, I am in the same boat getting to meet students affiliated with all kinds of studies at Virginia Tech. In teaching public speaking, we also have a supervisor who helps us plan for the class and gets us prepared to go into the classroom, or zoom meeting these days!

    It is so interesting to hear how TAing another class works. Most of all I am totally with you on being approachable while adding some self-deprecating humor. If we are able to laugh at ourselves, then our students will feel at ease in the classroom. Ultimately as you said if we are able to show we’re passionate about the subject matter to the class, then we will be able to create a successful learning environment full of engaged students.

  4. Sara Lamb

    Hi Stephanie, thank you for sharing your experiences as a master’s student at Appalachian State. It sounds like you found a truly authentic professor and mentor in them. You wrote that you are empowered to amplify the voices of those who were formerly excluded and I am so glad to hear this. Inclusion and validation are so important for students and their success and I think the world needs more professors like you and them. As you gain experience, I know your authentic teaching self will continue to shine through and inspire others.

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