Even if the shoe fits, you should find your own shoe.

 

I have always enjoyed school, from the new notebooks to the new classmates, but what really made me school experience shine for me, was that of who was teaching me. I have always been one to admire the professors I have had and their passion for learning (I was graced with great teachers all through my undergrad—there isn’t one I look back on and are like “ he/she was the absolute worst!”, which, I feel very fortunate for. However, this is also a hard burden to bare—I never want to be the “the absolute worst” for any of my students that I teach, and that is a lot of responsibility. I never want to be the professor people dread having a class with.

Though, I currently am not in what others would consider a typical classroom (I am actually in a residence hall), I  still consider myself an educator—just with a lot more noise and a personal ~homey~ ambiance. When I was reading “Finding My Teaching Voice” by Sarah E. Deel, I found myself really resonating with what she said about finding yourself as an educator and the twists and turns of developing your own style and identity.

When I entered my role of being an Assistant Residential Learning Coordinator, I had zero residence life experience and was looking for the best ways to reach my students and give them the best experience possible. I did not want them to feel like they got the short-end of the stick so to speak with having a coordinator that did not have prior experience. I found myself turning to my supervisor and observing her style. In my eyes, she was this confident, experienced, and engaging educator. She had a take-charge attitude with a mix of assertiveness and relatable & personable demeanor.

The students we worked with were very receptive to her style and since I was new, I was still going through the growing pains of trying out new styles and seeing if they would work. I, like Sarah, felt like I was not sure I belonged here and doubted myself and my abilities as an educator. I had a couple misses with different styles with my student staff and I saw how receptive students where to her demeanor and ways, I tried to be like her. Like Sarah, I had resigned myself to thinking that my approach and ways were not good so I should just emulate someone’s ways that works and works well.

What I failed to realize, is we were totally different people and I didn’t account for our personality differences. By putting on my supervisor’s teaching voice, I was not being true to myself and giving myself grace to fully figure out who and what kind of educator I could be. It was exhausting trying to be like my supervisor with teaching, I could do the same thing she did, but end up with totally different results and reactions. I felt defeated, I thought my way did not work and then when I tried a way that worked for someone else, and it still was not working. I did not know what to do and I did not want to let my students down.

I started talking with my supervisor more about this feeling of being an imposter and not wanting to let down the students counting on me. In this conversation, I had my own version of Sarah’s “ah-ha” moment when I realized that there are many ways to be an effective educator. Once I started being more true to myself- just as Sarah did- I realized, I was having much better results. By giving myself grace to be my authentic self (weird enthusiasm & positivity and all), I realized that though I have my own way of educating,  it does not make it any less valid. When I brought more of myself into my work, I had much better feedback from staff. Like the other article, “The Authentic Teaching Self and Communication Skills” by Professor Fowler said, “students see posing and posturing very quickly; do not be someone you are not in your classroom”. I believe this full-heartedly rings true. I agree with Sarah when she said, “because I am more relaxed about interacting with my students, my communication with them seems to go more smoothly”. The second I stopped trying to be someone else, my relationships with my students grew stronger.

As I continue to grow and explore as an educator, I know that I plan on staying true to who I am throughout the process. I just wish I had learned this lesson the first week on the job.

13 Replies to “Even if the shoe fits, you should find your own shoe.”

  1. I think this is a great post about the value of authenticity. Yes, we all idolize certain educators, and we often try to emulate them because they seem successful. Truly, this is not a bad idea; when we see others being successful, we try what they do. However, as you noted, it diminishes our authenticity. I think the secret lies somewhere in the middle. You have to stay true to who you are; however, you can learn amazing ways to do things better by watching experts. You can adapt them to be more your style, but the general idea can be the same. Teaching style is something that is constantly evolving because all of education is also constantly evolving. Regardless, the key is to be yourself while keeping your eyes open to other ways to improve your teaching.

    1. Hi Kathleen, thank you so much for your comment. I think you are totally right, the secret lies in the middle of using others best practices while being true to ourselves in our teaching ways. I really like your point about teaching as something that is constantly evolving and that we will need to adapt with it in terms of our styles because there are pedagogies and classroom designs constantly being created. This is a good reminder to make sure that while I am being myself, to make sure I seek out ways to learn new things in the field or from other educators. I do not want to be one of those professors that have taught the same course for 10 years and are still doing the same thing in the same way.

  2. Hi Zellie,

    I can really empathize with the struggle of being impressed by and trying to emulate teachers around you, then finding that you can’t quite pull off what they do. However, the self-awareness and growth that comes from that trial and error is really helpful in establishing an individual identity as a leader and an educator!

    I think your non-classroom leadership and education role is really cool and will undoubtedly help you if your goals ever find you in a classroom.

    1. Hi Devin, thank you so much for your comment! I totally agree with you that trial and error is really helpful when you are trying to figure out your own teaching style. Though, it can be rough at times. As well as I think at different points in our lives, we will have different teaching styles. I hope that my non-classroom education role will help in the transition to the classroom if I do end up deciding to go into academia.

  3. This is an interesting post. I like that you talked about your experiences in a role that we might not instantly think of as teaching. As a long time dining employee who worked with a lot of students, I can’t definitely relate as I often saw myself as a teacher of basic life skills in my role supervising students. I also liked your narrative about learning to teach based on your own personality and not what worked for someone else. I agree with you that we have to teach in a way that works for us and not in a way that we have seen others have success with. I would also add that while we may often see other teachers as more successful, we might also find that we have students that relate more to our own style than to the style of teachers who are widely seen as successful.

  4. I agree with Kathleen. Sometimes our favorite teachers can give us important lessons. There are some lessons they can teach us, such as not putting too much into a single lecture. However it is still important to take those lessons and tailor them to our own styles.

    1. I think imitation is an important mode of learning and its different than losing your true self and acting up a different persona. I have had a handful of amazing teachers that were so significant in shaping the image of ideal educator for me that can not imagine my teaching-self without some of their best practices. I might not want to become them, but I would certainly take lessons from their success.

  5. Thanks for sharing your experience. I think that is something we all have to go through personally to truly understand and develop ourselves into effective teachers. Personally, I feel that at some point it takes too much energy to review the material we need to teach, prepare the class lecture, be effective and in turn have the task of emulating or acting the way we think we should be teaching. It is definitely worth while to become comfortable in embracing ourselves and I’m sure the students appreciate your sincere enthusiasm in the subject more than a performance of what we think it should be.

  6. I really appreciate your genuine reaction to this week’s reading. I have not been in many teaching scenarios and I can already see myself struggling with this the few times I have guest lectured. I think the hardest part of being your true self is figuring out who that is. I know the kind of teacher I want to be and I can relate to never wanting to be someones “worst” teacher.

  7. I like what Kathleen said earlier about adapting the teaching styles of experts to fit your own practice. It’s important to keep evolving throughout your career and the best way to do that is by absorbing the best information out there and filtering it through your own experiences in the classroom (or the residence hall, or wherever one’s teaching role places them).
    I have teachers that I admire a great deal, and to be perfectly honest, if there’s something they do that I think is really neat, I’ll straight-up copy it as subtly as I can (so that students who have both me and that professor don’t catch on–spoiler alert: they still haven’t. Mwahahahaha!), and if it works, I’ll adapt it over time to make it my own, and if it doesn’t–either because of personality differences or it just doesn’t work for me, I’ll toss it and find something else.

  8. Firstly, what a great title! I knew I had to read your post — and I am so glad I did. I come from a similar pro-teacher background. As an undergrad, I also had great experiences with my teachers and am still in regular contact with many of them today. I really like your connections to your work in residence halls as a “homey” atmosphere — I agree you are absolutely in a teaching position, and even more importantly, I think you are a mentor as well. Your enthusiasm for teaching is electric in this post, as I’m sure it is in real life. Thanks for writing!

  9. I relate to your post at so many levels. I think we are all teachers, teaching something to someone all the time. In your case, you have a much bigger responsibility than just classroom teaching. I am glad that you were able to find your path. I think for developing your style, the trials that you did earlier would have definitely helped. I think you are among the ‘absolute best’ of the lot as you are trying to continuously change yourselves to make others life better.

  10. I love your points so much. Well, I think it is fine for students to try to imitate the teacher’s teaching style just like their try to learn something for their parents. Compared with our teachers, our relationship with our parents is closer, isn’t it? But we will not be a replica of our parents. Many people may worship their teachers when they are young and it’s a great thing to learn the sparkle on them. To be honest, it would be difficult to have a “unique” teaching way that developed by yourself, but the key thing is, You need to develop your own teaching path which is comfortable and you really love it for the bottom of your heart.

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