Inspirational and aspirational models.
You’ve all seen them. You all know one. Uber-teachers. The ultimate guides-on-the-sides. The ones who’ve been gifted with the ability to effortlessly engage, enrapture, and educate their students. Without sweating (or swearing). Without the slightest twinge of unease. They know all about group work, and have group discussions down to an art. Their enthusiasm knows no bounds. They are a delight to behold and everybody loves them.
Is this the teaching ideal I should strive for?
Quizzical. Get quizzy. Quiz-tastic!
Just what kind of teacher am I anyway? I’m going to set aside my student assessments and do some self-assessment. Take stock of things. Get to know the real me. And what better way than to take online quizzes! It’s funny how you can hate tests, but love quizzes.
- What Harry Potter character* am I? (Professor Dumbledore, a top-notch wizard). See, on the right track already! *(Rowling 1997)
- What kind of animal am I? (owl). A symbol of wisdom, go me!
- What kind of sandwich am I? (piled high pastrami on rye). Hmmm… a distinguished sandwich of epic proportion.
There are also quizzes specifically geared towards teaching:
- Teaching Monster (I’m Serious and Smart). But not Spontaneous and Energetic, or Fun and Outgoing.
- ProProfs (I’m a Fair teacher). But not a Popular teacher…
- Teaching English Teachers (I’m an eagle, i.e., picture smart). But not bee/nature smart, parrot/word smart, monkey/body smart, elephant/number smart, polar bear/myself smart, whale/music smart, or dolphin/people smart.
- According to internet quizzes, I’m also a ‘moderate’ teacher, ‘backbone’ teacher, and ‘tough love’ teacher. Whatever those mean.
Good, better, best?
Is being a pastrami on rye better than a hummus wrap or PB&J on wheat? Is spontaneity important? What if I was number smart instead of picture smart?
The authors of Teaching and Performing: ideas for energizing your classes (Timpson et al. 1997), point out some fascinating parallels between teaching and performing, and suggest developing skills in the performing arts (e.g., singing, dancing, acting) can enhance your teaching ability. While I’m fairly certain applying their lessons wouldn’t hurt (and could help), I’m 100% certain I won’t be signing up for vocal exercises, rumba, or improv night.
It’s just not me.
Square one today, square two tomorrow.
When I was a graduate student, I got zero experience with teaching in the classroom. As in none. I didn’t even know what the word pedagogy meant. This is not unusual. Are you teaching your graduate students how to teach?* Where do newly hired Ph.D.’s learn this skill set? If you don’t have a program like Gateways-ND, it’s mostly via trial by fire. Oops, I meant trial and error. And it’s not like Profs have lots of spare time to devote to pedagogy, because we wear many hats. And there are hats within hats within hats.
*Caveat – Teaching assistants often get some experience in the classroom, and there are some other teaching-related opportunities, e.g., CSM Learning Assistant Program (undergrads) and College Teaching Certificate (grad students).
Everyone starts at a different place. And that’s okay! We all have areas of improvement and things to learn. It’s not about being somebody else. It’s about self-growth.
It’s not about being somebody else. It’s about self-growth.
Q: Who should I be? A: Myself.
First step – honestly assess your strengths (yes, you have them) and weaknesses (yes, you have those too).
It can be hard to admit you have weak spots. Often you’re blind to them. That’s why they’re weak spots. Sometimes you get a sense something isn’t working and needs to be addressed. Or maybe it’s a comment on an SROI (student rating of instruction) or a peer review. Occasionally, it can take an utter fail to get the message.
You could deny it (no problem here). Or blame others (it’s their problem). Or make excuses, deflect, and delay. But do things ever really get better (without consequences) if you ignore them?
So what’s the problem?
Self-growth in an unsafe place.
Admitting you don’t know everything about everything in the austere realm of Academia, with its white towers (and moats and gates and dungeons), can be akin to hanging a target on your back saying ‘kick me.’ Right or wrong (uh, wrong), there is a pecking order. Peck! Peck! Peck! Are you a serf, or royalty? Or the snake whispering in the king’s ear? In academia, kindness can be in short supply while nastiness is normalized, as pointed out in these posts by the Thesis Whisperer (Academic Assholes and the Circle of Niceness), Kelly J. Baker (Cruelty and Kindness in Academia), and K.A. Amienne (Abusers and Enablers in Faculty Culture). The bottom line? The dysfunction is real, and academia can be a scary place to be vulnerable.
Can growth occur without being vulnerable, or open, to new things? And shouldn’t academia, of all places, be a haven for learners of all types?
In order to be the best teacher I can be, I’m going to swap my pastrami for hummus and have fries on the side. If you want your PB&J on a sesame seed bun instead of wheat bread, great! Sometimes it’s hard to find the support you need, but know that supports exists. Let’s create a culture of change where there’s no place for academic nastiness. Support sandwich evolution!
Some food for thought.
The Transformed Teacher
The Transformed Teacher is a faculty member who took a bold step out from behind highly detailed lecture notes and a gigantic podium into the teaching-verse, which is a magical place filled with helpful tips, tools, and teachers.
As I learn more about teaching, I find I’m significantly better than I was before, and a lot less neurotic. In fact, sometimes teaching is downright fun. Imagine that.
Rowling JK. 1997. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Arthur A. Levine Books, Scholastic Press. New York, NY. (and the six other books in the series)
Timpson WM, Burgoyne S, Jones CS, Jones W. 1997. Teaching and Performing: ideas for energizing your classes. Magna Publications, Inc. Madison WI.
Check out my previous posts:
Group work (pt. 2): What’s in a name?
Top 10 list for day 1
3 nuggets of wisdom for dealing with end-of-semester ‘feedback.’
5 steps to changing behavior.
Stuck in the middle (of the semester) with me.
Group work (pt. 1): Let’s get real.
Justifying just makes life easier.
Say something. Anything. Please…?
Changing educational pain to pleasure.