A quick disclaimer: This week’s readings and prompt hit me at an interesting time. Beginning the second and final year of my MA program, I am beginning to seriously think about what life will be like after grad school. Do I still want teaching to be an important part of my future and if so, what will that teaching look like? Needless to say, a prompt about finding my authentic teaching self really struck a chord and got me thinking about my future and myself. A wise individual once told me that some writing is for others and some writing is for you. Sometimes writing winds up being a way of essentially saying your thoughts out loud to make sense of them rather than conveying ideas to a reader. I think that this piece of writing is really more for me than for others, but I decided to post it anyway because I think that it is a good example of the process that we all go through when we start to think about our authentic teaching selves. With that said, on with the post…
This week we are talking about finding your authentic teaching self. In other words, its therapy time. Once upon a time, many years ago, undergraduate me didn’t understand why education programs were so focused on touchy feely stuff. Then I started to actually teach at the middle/high school level and I understood why – because teaching requires an emotional commitment, both towards your content and your students and because teaching will bring every ounce of your self-doubt and insecurity to the surface, regardless of how deep you thought you had buried it. I believe that teaching is an incredibly intense and personal act and thinking about how you teach inherently involves thinking about yourself as a person. In “Finding My Teaching Voice,” Sarah Deel stresses the importance of basing your teaching style on your personality, rather than trying to copy what other “successful” teachers do. This idea meshed with what I have already been told about teaching. During my internships for my MAED degree, teachers would always remind me that I had to find what worked for me, rather than copying what worked for someone else. Having said all that, I’m not sure that I’ve ever really spent much time thinking about my authentic teaching self, probably because to do so, I would first have to approach a much more intimidating question…
So who am I?
That’s a complicated question. Who I am sitting in a classroom of relative strangers is not the same thing as who I am when I’m with my family or my friends. Around strangers I am quiet, passive, calm reluctant to talk, (but willing when the time is right), careful with my words, not standoffish but also not engaging, humble and reserved. Around people I have known for a long time I am still humble, but also stubborn when I know (or think) I’m right. I am calm, but also passionate about people and ideas. Often times I’m still quite, but I’m also prone to be blunt, almost unreasonably argumentative, and frequently sarcastic, although also loyal and caring.
Which is the real me? Is my public persona just some front because I’m afraid that people won’t like me if I’m more open with them? Or is that quiet, reserved, guy just another facet of my personality, one that’s every bit as genuine as the one I wear around the people that I’m close with? More to the point, which persona is appropriate for my authentic teaching self? Sherri Fowler stresses the importance of being genuine and I know that my reserved self has a tendency to be superficially cool and reserved, regardless of how I actually feel. I think that sometimes this leads me to hide my passion, especially in front of students, for fear of appearing weird. Sherri Fowler also talks about the importance of being attentive to your student’s needs. My less reserved self is a lot more likely to accidentally say something stupid that could perpetually wreck my relationship with students or even, depending on the circumstance, cause them some level of emotional harm. On the other hand, my reserved self is a lot less likely to convey that I care about my students.
Maybe I’m oversimplifying all of this. One of the reoccurring themes from my readings and research in history is that binaries tend to oversimplify and obscure. In reality, my self is probably a shifting continuum, changing with each circumstance. The question then, is where I need to fall on that continuum when I’m in the classroom and how to go about making sure that I wind up where I need to be. I know that I will be humble, calm, and a little bit reserved, because quite frankly I think I’m incapable of anything else. I know that I will need to embrace my social awkwardness so that I can be genuine and engaging with my students, while still retaining enough social anxiety to keep me from saying something that I shouldn’t say. I also know that I will need to convey my passion, both for history and for my students, but I also know that I will convey this passion in a calm, reserved way. Moving beyond the touchy-feely aspects of my teaching self, I know that discussion will be a major part of my classroom time, because I don’t have the speaking chops to consistently pull off an engaging lecture. Moreover, I know that my classes will have a heavy focus on concepts and critical thinking, because I tend to think analytically, but also because I believe this will help my students develop skills that will hopefully make them better citizens, and, God willing, make this world a better place.
Of course, finding my authentic teaching self is only half the battle. The other half is actually making this self a reality in the classroom. Theory is inherently simpler than practice and I believe the next step will be to determine the routines, both inside and outside of the classroom, that will help me make my teaching self a reality.