Throughout my masters program, I wrestled with this idea of presenting my authentic self in a professional setting. I am a marriage and family therapist, so during my training and education on how to be a therapist, it was easy to want to emulate the pioneers in the field that were clearly amazing at what they did. We would watch several videos of these family therapy gods (all male), and all of us would want to be just like them. We would go off to our clients trying to do the exact same thing. Then we would leave a session more than likely feeling defeated that it wasn’t successful.
Our supervisors were constantly telling us to stop trying to be Salvador Minuchin, Jay Haley, Murray Bowen, etc. Because, the fact is….we weren’t those men. We were our own selves, and we needed to be our own therapists. The more we can be genuine within our therapeutic approaches and use them in a way that honors our person-as-therapist, the better we are able to connect to our clients and thus help them in their change process.
The same is true for teaching.
Most of us know teachers that we admire and love. It is a natural thought process to try to copy what they do, obviously because we liked what they did and it spoke to us. But the reality is that we are not all alike. We can implement the same approaches, policies, and activities in the classroom, but these will likely not be received in the same way. Sarah Deel highlighted this very phenomenon when she tried to tell jokes during her lectures that were met with blank stares.
While the end goal is to reach your authentic teaching self at some point during your teaching career, I believe that sometimes it can be good to start the journey with those teachers that have reached you in some way. If you aren’t sure what you want to do in your classes, try something on for size. See what fits your style and what doesn’t. Teaching authentically and effectively is a process that needs to start somewhere.
I have grown into my authentic teaching self through this very trial and error process. It is overwhelming to start from scratch. So, I took syllabi from various faculty and took what I liked, tweaked what I somewhat liked, and tossed what I didn’t. And I continue to do this every new class I teach because things change. This process has allowed me to critically think about and own what kind of teacher I really want to be: caring, flexible, humorous, passionate.