Monday, February 27, 2017

The Authentic Teacher

Admittedly, I found this question difficult to answer, given my style and approach to many things in my life. Most people would say that my reserved ways are more emblematic of a formal style. I try to be careful and safe in my approaches to many situations, so I am more likely to employ a formal style to any instructional environment.

I remember the first time I ever taught at the college-level. I taught, for lack of better term, an “introduction to college life” course. It was an extended orientation course which covered such things as time management, study skills, life management, knowing institutional resources, and others.

My overall goal in the course was to instill in students accountability, not just for themselves, but for their instructors. Whenever a student asked clarifying questions that could easily be answered by reviewing the course contract, AKA the syllabus, my answer was always the same – “Read your syllabus.” I wanted to be the teacher who was strict and orderly, who covered his ass in every aspect and who covered every scenario possible. If students did exactly what the syllabus asked of them, they got the grade they deserved – no grey areas. In sum, I included a lot of needs I had as a student during my undergraduate years and incorporated them into my approach as a teacher.

Now the above was done early on in my career – over 15 years ago. Knowing what I know now, especially in online classrooms (which I have primarily been engaged in during the last several years as a student), the above approach by itself will not work at all. I still firmly believe that a certain level of order must be present in a classroom, regardless of delivery mode. But I also am embracing the need to not be so rigid. So I guess this is where the authentic aspect can come in. I have come to embrace flexibility more and more and am less stuck on order and precision. It is OK to allow some flexibility and creativity, and to consider the wants and needs of the student in creating any learning environment.

Part of this flexibility should include some level of contribution to the classroom experience. If I truly believe in constructionism (which was the topic of my last post), then it is going to be crucial for me to let loose somewhat and allow for individual creativity and participation. I cannot be firm and stick to a script all the time.

To try and use both styles, I may be stricter with task-specific assignments. For other aspects, like dialogue and discussions, I would imagine being a bit less formal (although I would want all students to contribute a certain amount of times and in certain ways – and this can be spelled out in a grade rubric). But, if it does not happen, so be it. And I should be OK with the notion that you get out of it what you put into it.

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