Learning to Teach is a Process

My experience with teaching is limited. During my final year of undergrad, I worked as a consultant (tutor) at my university’s writing center. This was not a job I applied for. The professor of one of my required literature classes approached me one day, after class, and asked if I was interested in teaching at the writing center. We had done some peer editing in class. I enjoyed helping my classmates with their papers, from brainstorming to finalizing drafts, so I enthusiastically agreed. Most of the other tutors at the were English majors with at least a semester or two’s experience under their belt. I was a history major, and new. I felt misplaced, like the professor made a mistake in choosing me for the job.

Chapter one of Palmer’s the Heart of a Teacher talks about anxieties like this. Palmer discusses the danger these fears pose in causing us, as teachers, to detach from the student, and from the subject matter. This is exactly how I first reacted. Intimidated by my fellow tutors who were trying to show me the ropes, I lost the original enjoyment I felt in helping another student. The first semester was difficult as I attempted imitate the other tutors’ methods rather than rely on my own competencies to develop my style. Palmer’s solution to our fears and fear-biased reactions is to self-reflect, to find the things that energize us, and to connect to our subject and our students.

This is something I have so far struggled with as a teacher, but it is a process. I experienced a similar process in writing. Finding a voice in your writing, especially in academic writing, is something that many of us find challenging. It means discovering yourself, and learning how to be true to that self, even as you explore subject matter and ideas that come from outside of you. Palmer describes this in teaching as merging the exterior and the interior. It is like bringing “I” into your writing. It’s allowing yourself to be part of your teaching and not just a vehicle for an objective subject and practiced pedagogy. Discovering yourself and your voice in writing is also a process, and it is ongoing. These are aspects I see in Palmer’s discussion of teaching. His idea that integrity in teaching comes from this understanding of yourself, and your ability to connect that self to the subject and the students, runs parallel to my understanding of a writer’s voice. I hope my experience in these next two semesters help me come closer to finding myself as a teacher. Gaining integrity in teaching will be just as much of a process and finding a voice in writing was and is.

One thought on “Learning to Teach is a Process

  1. Your analogy of writing is exactly on point, Jessica. Both writing and teaching are practices that require us to invest something of ourselves in order to achieve our goals. You will find your voice! If you try something and it doesn’t feel right, you can try something else next time until you recognize yourself in the classroom. I’m so happy you are with us this semester!

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