To teach or not to teach?

This is the debate that I am currently facing. There are various reasons why I want to pursue my PhD but I am not sure teaching is one of them.

Through my previous GA I was exposed to co-teaching with my co-worker/classmate also in my Higher Ed program. This experience made me realized how much I disliked grading. I had a hard time balancing what I felt was too lenient or too strict. Similarly to this meme… I feel that I have patience but not when students are asking questions twice because they weren’t paying attention. So here I am in this dilemma of whether I want to teach or not. I actually think I could be a decent professor because Sarah E Deel and Professor Fowler both mentioned in their articles various  teaching strategies that I saw myself doing in my first class already. Some of these were being authentic, engaging, and prepared. But that’s just me assuming because  who knows since I didn’t make it to ratemyprofessors.com I checked haha.

On the other hand in the article Finding my teaching voice, this statement was brought up “I got the sense that it didn’t matter much; it was how you paid your bills while you were conducting research”. I think this is something that I think a lot of graduate students can relate and is pivotal to some of the teaching issues we face today. This is how many future professors tend to begin their graduate school journey. Many receive no guidance to the first time they have to teach, it is usually covering for a professor that can’t make it for a class that day. At Virginia Tech, I have seen more intentional training for GTAs but I am not sure this was the case for my undergraduate institutions. Many times if a GTA covered a lectured for a professor I could see their lack of guidance. As an undergraduate student I would be annoyed and complained to peers etc.. but now as a graduate student I have seen how many times it is not their fault and say “you can’t blame them.. Is not their fault”.

Lastly, Professor Fowler in his article The Authentic Teaching Self and Communication Skills brings this up “ Being “real” and “present” in the classroom does not mean you erase all boundaries; Paulo Freire argues that teaching is always directive—as the teacher you are never on a completely equal level with the students, even as you recognize that your students can be both learners/teachers in various moments, and even as your recognize that you can be a teacher/learner”. The caught my attention as I am a Freire fan. If you haven’t read his Pedagogy of the Oppressed I would definitely recommend it! I truly agree with this because when you get that teaching title it will separate you from your students but it does not mean that the classroom and learning experience can’t be a dialogue between the two. As I continue to have this dilemma whether or not I go into Academia I do have a quote that pulls me towards teaching “Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world” -Nelson Mandela

Teaching: Who I am, What I Do

Who is my favorite teacher? How  does she interact with students? How does she teach? Sarah Deel in her article, Finding My Teaching Voice, addresses two major criteria in order to answer the questions like the ones mentioned above; having a good sense of humor, and being charming and easy to relate. One may address some other characteristics of a good professor. Regardless, as Deel points out, there are many ways to be effective teacher, what important is that find out who you are and express yourself in class. Shelli Fowler highlights the importance of authentic teaching self and finding out who one is as a teacher. There is interconnection between who we are and what our philosophy in teaching is, and how we implement practices and adopt strategies in classroom. These two inform one another.

Back to the questions posed earlier and reflecting on myself and experiences I have had, I believe there is a connection between what Deel called as having easy-going attitude in seeing students as individuals and what Alfie Kohn called it as learning orientation approach. Kohn in his article, The Case Against Grades , argues that focusing on details and too much attention on assigning grades and assessment prevents seeing a bigger picture of what students learn.

Teaching: Who I am, What I Do

Who is my favorite teacher? How  does she interact with students? How does she teach? Sarah Deel in her article, Finding My Teaching Voice, addresses two major criteria in order to answer the questions like the ones mentioned above; having a good sense of humor, and being charming and easy to relate. One may address some other characteristics of a good professor. Regardless, as Deel points out, there are many ways to be effective teacher, what important is that find out who you are and express yourself in class. Shelli Fowler highlights the importance of authentic teaching self and finding out who one is as a teacher. There is interconnection between who we are and what our philosophy in teaching is, and how we implement practices and adopt strategies in classroom. These two inform one another.

Back to the questions posed earlier and reflecting on myself and experiences I have had, I believe there is a connection between what Deel called as having easy-going attitude in seeing students as individuals and what Alfie Kohn called it as learning orientation approach. Kohn in his article, The Case Against Grades , argues that focusing on details and too much attention on assigning grades and assessment prevents seeing a bigger picture of what students learn.

Between a rock and a hard place: are authenticity and control contradicting factors in a class ?

Reading Shelli Fowler’s  “The Authentic Teaching Self and Communication Skills“, I think of the complex nature of two teaching dilemmas: There is a performance element to teaching, where “acting” skills –vocal training and effective use of movement and gesture — are encouraged to help engage with students. On the other hand, “posturing” and “edu-tainment” are discouraged as distractions from the ultimate goal of a classroom:  facilitating learning. These are reasonable cautions in my opinion. We keep the form in check to let the substance flow.

Another challenging conundrum is being in control of the classroom without being controlling. To assert enough authority to shape a learning environment, weeding out distractions and making sure progress is made towards course goals. At the same time, the power relations should allow the audience to keep their individuality, their actively engaging inquisitive selves. This is to make sure the students are not treated as recording devices needing to be filled with information.

The challenge, however, is to keeping the authority in balance, without falling into the realm of hypocrisy.‌ Here is an idea: As educators, whenever we are in charge of a class, it is better to publicly acknowledge it. It is helpful to point out to the structure that gives meaning to our relations as teachers and students, the one that has placed us in a physical or digital space envisioned for learning. In other words, let us recognize the fact that we are working on a local level, hoping to reform a set of educational practices, from within the system.

The relevant metaphor here is a building. A building, through its existence, defines and enforces meaning to entities such as rooms, hallways, stairs and so on. When we talk about spaciousness, coziness, dullness or joyfulness of a place we are implicitly acknowledging the existence of a building. When I am developing my teaching philosophy and practicing new pedagogical ideas, I will strive to remember the building.

Otherwise, I  could be acting as if we are subverting the whole education system, but as the students leave for their next class, they will undoubtedly notice the disparity between their reality and mine. In simple words, it is better to play it straight, consciously acknowledge that we are motivated by our authentic selves as well as a paycheck, and that we ( the student-teacher collective) are bound, by time and contract. And finally, to keep one eye on every possible improvement and another one on the limitations inherent to structure of the system.

Different Voices of Teaching

Teaching depends on the teacher’s perspective, ability to teach, and the teaching style. Because everybody has its own style of teaching and “teaching voice” such as learning, and their approach and perspective lead to creating that style.

When I was reading Sarah Deel’s “Finding My Teaching Voice”, she was saying: “I had tried adopting the teaching styles of the good teachers I remembered, and it had not been an improvement, for me or the students.”. It is understandable because every person has its own style according to their character.

Describing ourselves as a teacher, especially without teaching experience, is not as easy. Teaching is a totally different type of communication than our everyday interaction with people.

Also, common rubric for a certain class is difficult to provide a fair environment in a class. Because every person is different and everyone’s assessment criteria can be different as Deel mentioned. But it is one of the hardest work as a teacher.

My Authentic Facilitating Other

As I take more classes on pedagogy and read more about education in academia, I find myself in favor of the notion of teacher as a facilitator. Whenever I look back to past years, I find lecture-based classes the worst class experience I have ever had. On the other hand, the most enjoyable and memorable classes to me are those in which the teacher spends less time on talking and more time on educational activities. Rarely were there exceptional lecture-based classes that I really enjoyed as a result of my personal interest in the topics. At least in my field, which is environmental planning, design, and construction, many aspects of traditional lecture-based classes are entirely redundant. As a result, I find both useful and redundant takeaways from readings on an authentic teaching self.

This week, I am going to have my first independent teaching experience at Virginia Tech, and my plan for the week includes zero minutes of lecturing. Rather, students are free to use the resources whenever they need them. Interestingly, I find similarities between my plan and Fowler’s “The Authentic Teaching Self and Communication Skills”. For example, I have organized each class hour into three segments, each including a 20-minute activity. These activities include independent learning by watching video tutorials, independent working on a CAD project, and watching a video conference as a group. To encourage communication between students, I have considered peer teaching, group projects, and group conversations using ICT in the following sessions. While I agree with Fowler in many aspects, I somehow disagree when she says “ALWAYS engage with your students; do not do something to them, or for them, or at them.”

I don’t think that a good class should necessarily have a teacher who, as Fowler says, always engages with students or, as Deel says, is obsessed with how he/she is read as a “SELF”. Although teacher’s characteristics are to some extent important, a good class, in my view, is the one in which authentic teaching is replaced with authentic learning. Comparing classroom with a movie, I think teacher’s role is being changed from an actor to a director. Teachers are becoming less visible in the classroom and their role is taken more and more by media and virtual content. Teachers are now behind the scene of guest lectures, group discussions, and peer assessments. All in all, I think teachers should be more obsessed with the course objectives and learning outcomes and less on their own personal expression. Again, this is my view as a graduate student in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies. How much do you think teacher’s personality affects learning outcomes?

Musing on my Teaching Self

When contemplating this week’s blog post I was suddenly reminded of a True Colors Personality Test that I took as part of my time as a resident assistant during my undergrad. I tied for both green and blue. (If you haven’t taken a True Colors year check out this quick one here: https://lonerwolf.com/true-colors-personality-test/) As a … Continue reading Musing on my Teaching Self

Teaching as controlled improvisation

Of the readings for this week, I connected most with Shelli Fowler’s “The Authentic Teaching Self and Communication Skills.” As I think about her handout I really appreciated her statement that “Teaching is not all about the teacher.” I’ve said it so many times, but academics tend to have serious egos. It just seems to attract that type. I don’t mean that all academics have egos, just that it seems to be an environment that breeds that mentality. When you’re constantly pitted against each other to prove the value of your research, it’s not really surprising. For that reason, I think academics find it challenging to connect with students and meet them at their level. The first thing I do while teaching is tell the students about myself and my journey to get to that classroom and my PhD program. I explain to them that I struggled through undergrad. I did my best to stay focused and connected, but I knew that in a class of 200+ I could skip class because no one was paying attention. Today, I make it my mission to make no student feel anonymous because I know that is the first way to lose the connection. I always start the semester by explaining to them all that I don’t have all of the answers, but I will work with them to help them find the answers to their questions.

In that regard I will often call on the class to help teach one other. What makes sense to me and the way I explain something will work for me, but not necessarily to every one of my students. When I teach I aim to learn from my students how to teach. I don’t expect to walk into my classroom and have everything I say stick the first time. I really appreciated the line that you need to “be flexible and adapt your plan as you “read” the dynamic.” Not every exercise I have tried has been successful. This is where improvisation is key. Do. Not. Panic. Just go with it. Have a discussion with the students. Ask them what worked and what they are struggling with. I really believe that maintaining honest and open conversation throughout my teaching has allowed for reflection and evolution of my teaching style. I’m certain I will (and have) fail at teaching one thing or another in the future, but I look forward to the failure, because that just means there is still so much room to grow.

Factors Affecting Teaching

This week’s readings made me think about factors that can affect teaching. For example, Deel stated “I was nervous about teaching and had a lot of doubt about whether or not I was doing the best job I could” (Deel, p.1). In a separate example, Papert mentions progressive education experimenters that “were too timid; the experiments failed just as the test of any medical treatment would fail if the treating doctors were afraid to give the drugs in effective doses” (Papert, 1993, p.14). I decided to find out about additional factors that can affect teaching. I learned about demands that some academic institutions can place on instructors. “These instructors face intense pressure to push students to graduate more quickly and to do it more efficiently, even as public funding for higher education, especially in California, has yet to fully return to pre-recession levels” (Rivera, 2015). I think it is important to acknowledge academic institutions can influence how instructors teach.

Deel, S.E. Finding My Teaching Voice. Retrieved from http://cte.virginia.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Deel.pdf

Papert, S. (1993). The children’s machine: Rethinking school in the age of the computer. New York: BasicBooks.

Rivera, C. (2015, August 26). Professors have ‘happy anxiety’ before classes begin. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/local/education/la-me-faculty-column-20150826-story.html

Can I REALLY Be My Authentic Self While Teaching in the Classroom?

This week’s subject talks about being our authentic selves while teaching in the classroom. I spent lots of time reading and re-reading Professor Fowler’s The Authentic Teaching Self & Communication Skills and several of the points that they mention in the article. Within the outline, I looked deeper into section one, the authentic teaching self. This section posed some tips and questions about what does it mean to be authentic in the classroom. All of the suggestions do make sense to me. However, I’m curious through what lens and worldview this article was written. Does the author take into account the positionality and world view of the different types of teachers? Does the author take into account the campus climate and campus politics? I’m not implying that the author doesn’t, however I do wonder.

Growing up, I knew my skin color was different fro my peers but it wasn’t until I began college that I was a woman and it certainly wasn’t until graduate school that I realized that I’m a BLACK woman. How I show up to spaces and how I convey my message to my students, while I may mean well, it could be taken in differently if I sound passionate about a topic. There was an incident last semester in which tone of voice and passion in the classroom (& really in general) came into question. some students responded saying that they don’t respond well to that type of interaction. When a topic means something to me or causes one or more of my identities to come into question, I become passionate (read: raise voice) when I speak on the topic. I’m not going to apologize for that. This conversation did make me question though, is there a way for my to still convey my disdain/dislike about a subject matter in the classroom while making sure that those around me understand that this not a personal attack against them? This same question makes me think, can I truly be my authentic self in the classroom, if part of my authentic self is sometimes being passionate about which I speak?

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to be belligerent and in-your-face with my comments. Just because something makes me upset doesn’t mean that I’m always going to get passionate or bent-out-of-shape about certain topics. BUT I also want my peers/colleagues, students and professors to know and understand what means the a lot to me. What makes me uncomfortable, what makes me think twice and unnerves me a bit.

I say all that I said above to ask the question, can I REALLY TRULY be my authentic self in the classroom? At this exact point and time, no I don’t necessarily feel like I can be consistently. And the moments in which I am myself, I feel like I’m being judged. But maybe that’s me being too critical on myself. Maybe I’m too concerned about someone else’s view of me, something that I have no business worrying about.

Okay. I feel like I’m rambling and rant so forgive me. If you made it this far with me, I appreciate you sticking it out and I look forward to reading your thoughts and answer to my main question (read: 3rd paragraph, first sentence).

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