New Teachers

Back to School: Teaching with Authenticity

August 28, 2013
Photo credit: iStockphoto

"When you're authentic, so is your art." - Sarah Breathnach

When I was a new teacher, I came to my first teaching position with a tremendous sense of excitement. I was ready to embrace all that the work had to offer. I had many ideas about how I wanted to set up my classroom, which included a playhouse, blocks and easels. I wanted to teach concepts in new and authentic ways. Sometimes I couldn't slow down enough to get to sleep!

This excitement carried on, even as I met my class co-teacher, who didn't quite share my enthusiasm. Where I had visions of original student easel paintings hanging on the walls, she wanted to post copied color book pages. Where I made room to display original clay figures that I envisioned the students creating, she brought in plastic cartoon characters, and lined them on the shelves. We were not a good match.

You see, I had a dream of teaching authentically and guiding my students to exciting discoveries. In comparison, my co-teacher was convinced that the best way to teach her students was to play it safe and "stay between the lines." It was a very tough first year for me.

Feeling Vulnerable

It takes a certain measure of vulnerability, as a new teacher, to decide that you'll make every effort to think and teach "outside the box" and be authentic. I got my share of licks that first year, not only from my co-teacher, but also from others in my grade level who were sure I was nuts! How was it that I couldn't see fit to teach with a stack of the worksheets they kept in classroom closets? Where was I going to find the space to house paint and easels? Who was going to buy the clay? Why did I insist on wanting to teach contrary to the team model?

My colleagues should have accepted the authentic ways that I wanted to teach my students, but they didn't. Instead of comparing my teaching style to theirs, they should have just made peace with it, but they couldn't. They were addicted to comparisons and checking on how they measured up to others -- a very painful combination.

At times, I felt so vulnerable that it took all my courage to get through the day. But I persisted -- not for me, but more importantly for my students.

Being Authentic

The shortcoming of comparison runs deep in the lives of many. You see it in schools every day. Each classroom has the same commercial wall poster so as to keep with conformity and structure. The fear that posting something authentic on the wall will not be acceptable -- let alone something in the form of a curriculum strategy -- keeps educators from taking the step to act. Sometimes being authentic and teaching in more creative ways is going to feel uncomfortable. But that shouldn't that always be our goal?

I believe that teaching is an art. And when you accept this artistic assignment, don't let anyone take it away from you. Be that unique teacher you were born to be, and share your experience and passion with your students. Try out those great ideas that are percolating, and watch the magic happen in your classroom. Persevere in spite of any fears that your activity might not be the best one. It's OK! Through choosing authenticity, you will be able to grow as an educator and, through that work, create meaningful experiences with your students.

Are you ready to commit to teach with authenticity? Will you be able to stay vulnerable in the process? Take a look at How to Get Students Ready for Learning, an Edutopia video that speaks to issues of relationship building with students and encourages teachers to be truly authentic.

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