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.