In my blog On Why I am Reluctant to Blogging, I expressed the importance I attach to authenticity. While teaching, I strive to be my authentic self. Finding my teaching voice has been a journey of conciliating the different voices and educational systems I was exposed to and creating my own voice.
I had the privilege to be educated in three different educational systems; Arabic and French system in Morocco, and the American system. These three educational systems, although very different, do share some similarities in teaching styles.
For some context, Morocco was under the French protectorate from 1912 to 1956; the French controlled most of the educational system during this period. After Morocco’s independence in 1956, Morocco undertook the educational system under the influence of the French system and kept French as a second language. As for the anecdote, German almost became America’s official language in 1795 (but that’s another story).
The reason I am uniting language and educational systems are that I firmly believe that language shapes our learning and how we learn. Studying in any language means that there is some degree of influence by the system of education in that country where the language is natively spoken. By extent, a teacher is also subject to an already set environment of teaching that they adapt to, be it French system, American system or any other system. In other words, teaching American history in English in the United States could be different from teaching American history in French in Morocco, and not just regarding language but also teaching styles and methodologies.
I grew up studying at a Moroccan school, where I was instructed in Arabic, French, and English. When I started my higher education, most of my professors and classes were taught in French, so I got very accustomed to the French teaching and educational style. When I came to the United States, I had to transition into the American system.
In mentioning “American” or “French” or “Arabic” system, I do not mean to present a monolithic and homogenous view of what that system is. I simply would like to reflect on common trends that I have personally experienced throughout my higher education.
From my experience in the French system, classes were formal, professors mostly lecture in a very structured format with headings, and numbered points. When the teacher speaks, students are expected to take handwritten notes and ask questions by the end of the lecture (preferably not during the lecture in order not to interrupt the professor). In my field of political science, I was often encouraged to have a nuanced standpoint as opposed to the strict dichotomy of bad or good, right or wrong. In most of my classes, formal attire was highly recommended. These little anecdotal facts reveal a bigger picture of the orderly setting of the French educational system. Students and professors had a straightforward relationship, which meant that if a professor were unsatisfied with a student’s performance or work, he or she will not manage their words or coat it in sugar but say it bluntly and openly.
When I transitioned to the American educational system, I was surprised by how laid back the teaching style seemed. Professors didn’t hesitate to use games and class activities to convey a learning lesson (which felt like being in kindergarden). In addition, professors were not overly conventional in their class rules, food, caps and fit flops were allowed (it took me some time to get used to that). Formal attire was not a requirement (I got asked so many times if I had a presentation, so I gave up wearing formal after a while). The relationship between professors and students was closer, with regular office hours and interactions. Instructors tried to protect students against criticism, my instructors never told me that my answers were wrong, only that there may be another way to respond.
While I don’t favor a system over another, I think both the French and American system has taught me to be a better professor. I, as an instructor, am a blend of these three educational systems, French, Arabic and American. I had the opportunity to learn from three approaches that complement each other in so many ways. For instance, while I hold my students to very high standards and provide honest and generous feedback, I also make sure that I am always available to meet my students and help them overcome their difficulties. While I encourage my students to take handwritten notes during class, I also share pamphlet summaries of the methodologies discussed. While I think it is important to maintain a formal relationship, I do not hesitate to introduce myself at the beginning of the class (which few of my professors do) and help my students get to know me better and understand my teaching style.
I have enjoyed writing this blog and could write an extended version of it later with more details and precision. The main message that I want to convey is that: before being a teacher, we were (and still are in some ways) students. As students, who are becoming professors, we are shaped by the teachers who taught us and by the systems in which we were trained. I like to share this diversity of teaching styles with my students. Teaching is, after all, knowing yourself and bringing the best of you, to the service of the student’s learning.