My first experience in a formal teaching environment was as a substitute teach for Loudoun County Public Schools. I was a freshman at the time, and my teaching experience was limited to swimming lessons and babysitting. I had to eat lunch in the teacher’s lounge with the AP History teacher I had the year before. I had failed his class. It was awkward. I struggled with maintaining authority in a classroom of students that were a year younger than me, students who were friends with my brother and were often at my parent’s house on weekends. I was nervous, soft spoken, generally a stumbling mess. Memories of these growing pains are visceral and embarrassing. The sort of things you think about when you’re trying to fall asleep at night. In the end though I wouldn’t change a thing. In fact, I would not be the teacher I am today without them. Learning from these obstacles shaped my teaching voice, and most importantly gave me confidence as an authority figure.
These experiences prepared me extremely well when it came time for me to teach my first college-level course Forest Entomology & Pest Management this semester. I had already experienced the struggles and doubts the author Sarah E. Deel described in her essay Finding My Teaching Voice. I was confident in presenting my true self in front of the class, and could relate to the students while still maintaining my power as an authority figure. This confidence allowed me to spend more time learning the material and planning how to effectively communicate the key concepts, instead of wasting brain power worrying about whether I have the capacity to be an effective teacher. I am extremely grateful for starting my career as an educator early in my life, even though I complained endlessly about the early morning commutes.
Deel provided a vivid description of her struggles as an inexperienced educator. I appreciated the depth and honesty she applied to each account, and identified with many of the same insecurities. I found that many of the take-away lessons from her early teaching days were the same as my own. Needless to say this was an enjoyable read. Some of the obstacles I thoughts were especially important to note are listed below:
1.) How do you maintain a professional relationship with your students?
2.) What is the appropriate tone to use as an authority figure? How do I keep my tone in check in tough situations?
3.) How do I keep the students engaged and interested? How do I encourage them to think creatively?
4.) How do I preserve my authority as a female educator?
When learning how to be an effective teacher, Deel stated that the most important education she received came from the act of teaching. No one told what to do, or how to manage a large number of students in a fair and respectful manner. She too, did not find her teaching voice until she had experienced the difficulties that inevitably surface during those first years of teaching. Some of the take away lessons that resonated with me are listed below:
1.) It is important to maintain a mutual respect in your teacher/student relationship. Be mindful of your tone, take time to explain your evaluation methods and Teaching Philosophy.
2.) There is no one true teaching method. Staying true to your unique style is most effective. Be intentional about developing a toolbox of techniques and strategies.
3.) Acknowledge your student’s individuality. Students respond to different learning styles and have unique needs.
4.) Teaching is flexible, not static.
While I didn’t learn anything new in this article, Deel’s writing helped me organize my own techniques and strategies in the classroom. This thought process helped me develop my Teaching Philosophy, which will be beneficial in my upcoming job search.