New Teachers

This is Not Pretend: Teaching from the Inside Out

July 29, 2016

I tend to metabolize emotions slowly and interact with students cautiously. I try to figure out what I should look and sound like as a teacher, and then attempt to feel that authentically—an outside in approach. But pretending to be authentic is no way to connect with students.

On my first day as a student teacher at Decatur High School, I tried to look and sound like an authority. I stood up straight in pressed clothing and smiled warmly. I said all the right things at the right time. But there was no conviction or resonance to my act. After all, I spoke like a 40-year-old teacher, minus 40 years of accumulated wisdom. Texans call this “all hat, no cattle.”

For legendary teachers, ideas and emotions start deep in their psyches. Before these thoughts are externalized--shared in the classroom--they work through a critical editing process called professional reflection. This inside out process is taxing, but the payoff is a teacher-student connection that is electric. 

That’s not what happened on my first day of teaching. While the classroom radiator chugged, students watched their new intern fake his authority and wisdom. Instead of accessing a true part of my inside and letting it bubble out, I pretended.

Instead of acting cool, I should have found the words that expressed what I really felt. That would have sounded like this:

“Standing here right now on this side of the classroom lights my brain up. I see 34 faces that remind me of the kids that had my back in high school. Every one of us knows I’m new at teaching and will make rookie mistakes—I’ve probably already made one. But I’ll do my best to have your back. I need your support. Can I ask you for a favor? Help me be good at this teaching stuff.”

So this fall, I want to share my genuine self with my students. For every minute of class time, I want to stay integrated with my inner life—where Friesians gallop through cherry orchards beneath the spell of a perfect moon—and teach from the inside out.

This is not pretend.

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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