I enjoy the freedom that acknowledging my uncool qualities carries with it; I don’t spend time or energy trying to be someone I’m not. As I express more of my individuality in the classroom, I am finding it somehow easier to see my students as individuals.
In many ways, I identify heavily with Sarah Deel, as she relates in “Finding My Teaching Voice.” I, too, went to a small liberal arts school where good teaching was heavily emphasized, where tenure hopes could fade or be made on the basis of teaching evaluations. I’ve questioned my own tone, image, style, control, and relevance in the classroom. I am mostly not cool, and I’ve given up on trying to be.
Deel’s several epiphanies reveal some problems with ideas of teaching-as-democracy. Fairness is relative; not everyone needs to be treated identically. Efforts to be fair, insofar as it means giving all students the same instructions, leaves many learners to struggle. If given the choice between treating students fairly and treating them kindly, we should remember that fairness is not always kind, but kindness is always fair. Kindness makes instructors approachable; it shows respect to all students, granting everyone identical opportunities for success.
The boundary lines I draw now have a firm footing in mutual respect between students and me. I think because I share my true self with them in class, they believe that I am genuinely trying to help them learn and respect me for that.
When teachers make efforts to teach a class as a group of individuals, it allows for a more communal atmosphere in the classroom. Teaching platitudes such as “You get out of it what you put in” apply, though not as a way to denigrate the students who appear disinterested or who don’t do all the work. Instead, the teacher, too, is held responsible, being required to put in effort to be more inclusive.