Tuesday, July 12, 2016

On Being Yourself in the Classroom

Some time ago, I was preparing for a lesson on digital footprints, and I was googling myself. (C'mon, admit it...you do it too...right?) In the process, I found this image:

Via quickmeme.com

Yes, that's the "Ancient Aliens" conspiracy-theorist guy.

No, I did not create this myself.

But I am afraid one of my students might have. (I'm only mostly joking...)

If one of my students did create this--whatever the motives behind it--I'll take it as a compliment.

I recognize that I am enthusiastic, and expressive, and energetic when I'm teaching. Some people talk with their hands; I talk with my whole body. Sometimes I get sidetracked by an interesting question or comment in class, and I go off down a rabbit trail with my students. I use wild analogies because I have an active imagination. I tell a lot of stories--most of them completely true, and some only embellished a bit around the edges. I tend to be a positive person in general, and I think this colors my approach in the classroom: I expect the best from my students, and I strive to challenge them to be their best selves as well.

(For those of you who know me well, I'm guessing you won't be surprised to hear any of this.)

Since I teach future teachers, I feel a weight of responsibility to practice what I preach. I am not only teaching content; I am embodying the very pedagogy we are learning about. Or, at least, that's the goal.

Do all teachers need to geek out and wave their arms wildly? Certainly not. We all have different gifts and talents and strengths and weaknesses, and we should capitalize on them for the good of our students' learning. Parker Palmer describes this in his book The Courage to Teach, which is one of my very favorites. Palmer suggests that we should seek to "teach who we are." He means that our personal identity is integral to how we conduct our work as educators.

Palmer also suggests that you should be the same person "on stage" as you are "backstage." Some teachers are really actors. Some take on a role of "the teacher," acting the way they think "the teacher" ought to act, but not really letting their own character influence the character they are playing.

I think students can tell when we are acting, though. I know, because I used to be this teacher, playing a role, acting like I thought a teacher should. And the students? They can discern a fake. When I started to let my own geeky sense of humor show, started to let my guard down and just be myself, they responded. It wasn't so much of me-against-them, as it had sometimes been in the past when I was acting. It became more of we're-all-in-this-together, with all of us learning. I still kept the students' learning at the forefront...but I stopped acting like a teacher. I became the teacher that I already was inside; I had to learn to just be myself, even in the classroom.

So, who are you, teacher?

Are you the one bubbling over with enthusiasm and bouncing off the ceiling, and able to stir up students' excitement? Use that to benefit your students' learning!

Are you the calm, unflappable sage who lectures magisterially? Use that to benefit your students' learning!

Are you the one setting high expectations for all students, and challenging, encouraging, and disciplining them all to meet them? Use that to benefit your students' learning!

Are you the quiet soul who connects deeply with students on a one-to-one level? Use that to benefit your students' learning!

Who are you? Use what you've got, the the benefit of your students' learning!

So, take this as an encouragement, friends: I'm going to teach who I am, whole-body gesturing, wild-eyed enthusiasm, tangential storytelling, and full-on geekiness. As long as I am keeping my students' learning at the forefront, I have yet to go wrong with this approach.

Go with your strengths! Are you going to act like a teacher? Or are you going to be the teacher you already are inside?


  1. AMEN! We teach to/with our strengths. God gives us many different strengths so there are many different types of teachers!

  2. Great point! Something we can all pause to ponder. (After we've worked hard not to teach to just our own learning styles.)