Finding My Authentic Teaching Self

I believe I have several traits that would benefit my authentic teaching self. I am laid-back, I am warm, I am a good empathetic listener, I have the ability to project when I need to, I can be quite charming when I rely on safe, light-hearted humor. I say safe because I am not one to tell jokes, rather I know the kind of comments to make that may cause the audience to chuckle. Since I don’t invest much time in setting up the joke, I am okay if they laugh or choose not to. For me, this is a good way to diffuse tension/nervousness in the room and on my end.

However, after my experience this past summer with advising five incoming engineering students, I realized I may only be able to keep the audience attentive if they already perceive the topic as interesting or beneficial. I can be energetic when I present in class after much practice, but these presentations are infrequent. I worry I will not be able to maintain an appropriate level of energy for an entire class period, every class period. I do not have much experience with engaging the audience; not just getting them to listen, but also actively participate. This past summer, I tried to encourage participation by asking the students to read certain segments or share their perspectives, so I was not the only one talking. Mostly, I found that they were disengaged—perceiving the academic advising session as just another block of time forced into their already jam-packed days created by the summer transition program. I would like to ask questions to keep my students engaged—I think students are more willing to respond when the questions are open-ended and do not have one answer. Perhaps there is one answer, but the instructor does not actually know at that particular point in time. When an instructor relies on asking questions to which the answer is already know, it can limit participation because most people do not want to be publicly wrong. I’ve found that students will even whisper/mumble the correct answer because they are not entirely sure. Going back to my roots as a drama/musical theater performer, I would like to work on my enunciation and diction—even expanding my own vocabulary. This often makes me the self-conscious when I present or teach, depending on the audience. Being comfortable with the words that are coming out of one’s mouth is important to effective communication and overall confidence.

Touching briefly on the idea of using physical obstacles on teaching presented by Professor Fowler, I’ve often thought about this. I feel writing on the board with one’s back turned to the class is ineffective in maintaining connection and engagement. I personally like the idea of using a document camera, although this can be an example of an obstacle between the instructor and intended audience addressed by Professor Fowler, such as a podium. However, combined with guided notes that are available to print and bound, document cameras can be useful to fill in key concepts/equations while still being able to look up to interact with the students. I will continue to consider organizing the class in 15- to 20-minute segments to be mindful of the varying attention spans—I thought this was an valuable consideration raised by Professor Fowler.

I would say that I think it is important to cover the key topics in a class, especially an engineering class. Thus, in order to not prioritize coverage over meaningful learning (I cannot tell you how many times I have heard my professor say this semester “I have 45 slides to get through in 45 minutes”), it might be useful to plan a “condensed” and “extended” version of the class. The extended version of the class would provide additional topics the class can choose to explore, perhaps with a research or industry focus. It is also crucial to actually schedule in “workshop” classes/practice sessions, to work on problems throughout the course, not just the class before the exam. Scheduling them in allows the students to prepare problems and does not leave them with the feeling that the instructor “sacrificed” a class period to answer questions.

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5 thoughts on “Finding My Authentic Teaching Self

  1. I really like your post, although I do have to defend the blackboard (in the right circumstances) I had a calculus porofessor that spent class writing out these problems on the board, talking to his writing hand the entire 50 minutes. That was not an effective use of the blackboard. On the other hand, in a teaching lab, where students had to come up with their predictions to experiments, I would use the blackboard to write out their theories as they came up with them. This way we could discuss them, but I spent most of that time facing the students. Perhaps a Doc cam could serve the same purpose, but unfortunately we did not have one in that lab.

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  2. This is a really thoughtful blog. I start to think about what role should a class play. Should we really rely on a class to transfer condense contents, or just take a class as a chance to stimulate the interests/passions of the students?

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  3. Hitting the right spot between expanse and density of the teaching material can be a challenge, and I’m glad you are thinking about experimenting with different formulas. I also think being an emphatic listener is a great asset for you in the same regard. Student’s may feel too shy to speak in clear terms about their experience of the class and what they think they need. A good listener can pick up the little clues or even encourage them to speak their minds.

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  4. I really like your ideas of having an “extended” class and building in days for workshops and problem solving. I also can relate to your struggle with student engagement. I have experienced that struggle many times. But, I think you’re right that if students perceive the lesson as beneficial or interesting they will give it greater attention.

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  5. I agree that it’s much easier to engage people who are already interested in a topic; the challenge is engaging those who are disinterested or see attending lectures as an inconvenience. It can be challenging to determine what the best way- and most useful for students- to use scheduled class time is.

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