I’ve had to ask myself that question several times. I don’t quit asking either for two somewhat opposing reasons, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
I do have to clarify my use of the word teacher. Here I’m talking about anyone who teaches, instructs, mentors, or guides others in a professional setting. Teaching, in other words, as a broad term describing the act instead of the position, specifically. The verb versus the noun.
I was never the teaching type. Growing up with painful shyness and introversion I was the last on anyone’s radar that would happily get up in front of any audience and speak much less teach.
Question 1: Am I a teacher?
The first question comes from a place familiar to many: one of an impostor.
When I taught my first class as an adjunct faculty (Lecturer) at university I was terrified a bit to say the least. I remember I made the huge mistake of passing by the class first glancing at all the students. A bolt of fear struck my stomach and I felt a wash of anxiety splash over my entire body. Luckily I’m really good at internalizing and bottling up those feelings and making it look like I’m not breaking a nerve-racking sweat.
Being around a number of professor types (some that actually taught me as an undergrad) with tenure and seemingly endless years of experience, it goes without saying that I was a bit intimidated.
I desperately tried to emulate those professors. Their teaching style, speech patterns, and course materials. I was trying to imitate best practices all the while maintaining some sort of acceptable composure in front of the class.
Am I a teacher? That question kept nagging at me, doubt started creeping in, but I never let up on trying to improve things. I held tight to the traditional methods and tried and true practices in hopes of at least looking the part.
Question 2: Am I a teacher?
Fast forward several years and many semesters later and I had developed several techniques of my own. Eventually I adopted the practice of dissecting every class at the close of each semester, dismanteling everything and scrutinizing every aspect. From assignments and tests to projects and grading nothing was immune. What was working? What wasn’t? What needed to be more rigorous?
But most of all, was the course related to and challenging the student enough directly regarding real world preparedness?
Was it all just theory and no practice? In my mind that was a formula for disappointment and disaster and both the students’ and my part. I felt I needed to prepare the students for life after school — the professional world.
Eventually, I started to muster confidence in my teaching ability. Not from copying the old doctrines, but by drawing on my life experiences from cancer to military, from competitions to federal jobs and from coaching countless clients to facility management. I started injecting my life’s lessons into my instruction. These, I thought, would be life lessons not found in the texts.
Am I a teacher? By my new definition, yes. I am a teacher in my own, unique way. Instead of methods and traditions-focused I began to start from the students’ perspective. What will they get out of what I have to say? My confidence is drawn from the needs of the student, not the other way around.
Are you a teacher or mentor? What was your defining moment when you found out?
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