Discovering my authentic teaching self

Sarah Deel’s narrative on finding her true teaching voice provided a wonderful journey through her first experiences teaching and helped me think back to my first year (last year) and how much I have continued to adapt my own teaching style. As a public speaking teacher, we are given a weekly script and overview of each unit’s goals and objectives, but we are also given the free reign to organize the class lectures and activities to however we feel most comfortable. I can relate to Deel’s explanation of her constant search for that “favorite professor’s” vibe that seemed to rub off so positively to all students but have since realized, similar to Deel, that authenticity is created from within one’s own self-discovery and personality. I am a very extraverted and feeling-sharing type of person, so embracing a class where I disclose information and share my experiences together with my students has helped me play into my own strengths. Both of my parents are social workers and counselors, so I view teaching in a connection-oriented fashion. I try to form connections with each student early on, as I believe that once people realize similarities between one another, they are more likely to trust that person and see VALUE in the content they are teaching. Shared experiences, whether it is something as simple as growing up in a big family or working in the kitchen of a restaurant, link humans together and help bridge the divide in a place that is often thought of as two distinct worlds (teachers vs. students). I agree with Deel in that I see students as individuals who all come from different background and experiences that all can learn from public speaking on a different level. The more I connect to these students’ differences, the more credible I am as a teacher and leader in the classroom moving forward.

Deel goes on to explain her reasoning for grading students and addresses the difficult questions surrounding fairness and evaluation for students that come from such different backgrounds with the content. While Biology is much different than Public Speaking, I also find myself struggling to give consistent grades for students that have less experience public speaking than the extraordinary actors in the room that give these breathtaking narratives about their time saving a stray cat from the street and returning it home to a lonely grandmother. I am brought to tears by these dramas told by some students, but I also want to encourage the less confident speakers to also be proud of there first speech that didn’t necessarily move me as much. I feel like grades often stunt engagement and energy toward a subject– especially if a student is already dreading taking a class– and can really get in the way of forward progress. I love Homero’s approach to higher education, as he stresses that students should feel comfortable in the classroom and shouldn’t worry about “messing up.” If we all learn by “failing,” I think it is higher education’s job to let students fail in order to encourage improvement.

Lastly, I agree with Deel in that finding your teaching voice is a constant journey. While I am still a very inexperienced teacher, only going on my second year in the classroom, I find myself connecting the lessons to real-world situations and using past speeches to explain my content much more clearly now. It is so refreshing to prepare content and choose examples based on the type of students in the class for the day without having to worry so much about remembering what to say from being a first year teacher. While I do use humor and very goofy jokes throughout my class, I try to rely on the expressions and engagement from students to help me know when to cut if off or use it to my advantage. I like Homero’s idea of a teaching journal, and I will continue to reflect on my positive and more “humbling” experiences over this year.

4 thoughts on “Discovering my authentic teaching self

  1. I can definitely relate to your experience. The first year of teaching is full of a lot of anxiety and hyper-focus on the content. Once I got more confident that I knew what I was talking about and how to manage the time in the classroom, it was easier to start noticing the sometimes subtle differences between the way my students seemed to engage or not engage with certain things I did and taught. With only 40 students right now, it is nice to have the luxury of getting to know the majority of them. I do worry that when I am assigned a larger lecture that the special connections will disappear. I hope I remain optimistic like you and find a way to make the material engaging and catered to what I think the students will respond to based on their likes and backgrounds.

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  2. I agree with you that building a connection with students is crucial. I have found that many students are very shy, especially in front of a large class. Many of them have not had experience with discussion based or speaking based classes before they come to college. I have noticed while teaching that before students are willing to move to sharing more of themselves intellectually or otherwise, they need to trust both me and their fellow classmates. As a teacher, I find that the social icebreaking between classmates is often as important as the icebreaking between the students and myself. I also agree with you that grading is one of the hardest endeavors for a compassionate teacher. While we want to evaluate students fairly and to avoid favoritism, it is also true that some students are performing well “objectively” without a lot of effort, while other students have to work much harder to reach a certain standard simply because they have less background or experience. I don’t think there is a way to be completely fair, but there are ways that we can reach out to provide extra help to students who are willing to take it (this is harder when you are a graduate student and very busy). I also try to take the time to offer concrete suggestions for improvement, which involves some effort on my part to figure out why, for instance, the argument in a paper isn’t coming through. However, I believe that this shows students that I do care about their learning enough to take the time to do this.

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  3. Andrew,
    I think you make a lot of very astute points in your blog. One of my main takeaways from your post is the fact that you are connecting material to your everyday life. I think that doing this allows students to see ‘why’ they are learning the material and helps them to understand the real world implications of their learning. It makes them want to learn the material when they see that it is not only useful to them for a grade but also in their careers in the future. As a second year teacher, I also try to find that balance in delivering material and making it relevant to students who may be taking the class for different reasons. It is not easy to connect with each student with statements and examples that may only pertain to some of the students. I also think that putting a little bit of yourself out there to your students allows them to gain that trust in you in order for them to feel comfortable doing the same thing. It sounds like you are growing as a teacher and that should be the goal of any educator, including myself.

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  4. Congrats on finishing your first year of teaching! It’s interesting grading a class that can be so subjective, and I’m glad you acknowledged the challenges in doing so. What are we trying to convey through the grades? That the student is a natural public speaker or is trying hard to become a better public speaker, often overcoming deep-seated struggles like self-doubt and vulnerability to do so? The former would typically receive the higher grade, but the latter is a more commendable effort, and one that we should encourage as educators. I’m glad that you’re working to connect with your students, because then that connection can facilitate their progress more than grades.

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