When I teach, I want my students to see that I care not only about their educational success, but also about them as individuals. I want students to know that they will be challenged by my classes; however, I also want them to enjoy the class. As a young instructor, exercising the mantra of being “challenging, but fair” is a difficult thing. In my four years of teaching, I’ve realized that I can’t take the same approach with all students due to the fact that they are all incredibly different. One the one hand, I have students who are incredibly motivated and who are willing to face any challenge that faces them. I can be tough on these students and know that they will rise to the occasion. I’ve also had students who have a much harder time with being motivated and who struggle with self-esteem issues. I can’t challenge these students in the same way that I would other students. In the first few weeks of the semester, I take the time to get to know who my students are and how they respond to criticism. Doing so allows me to focus on how I craft my feedback to my students.
At the beginning of each semester, I tell my students that the grades that they receive in this class do not define them as individuals. I tell them that if they are able to leave my class being able to clearly speak their minds and communicate their thoughts with a greater level of confidence, then they have succeeded.
When I teach, I create a flipped classroom environment where students engage with the material with one another. This allows students to focus on learning from each other rather than listening to me for the entirety of a lecture. During the first 4-5 weeks of the semester, I tend to spend more time having my students interact with others in the class whom they do not know. In my experience teaching thus far, I’ve learned that it is incredibly difficult for students to feel confident when they are speaking in front of a group of individuals who are mainly viewed as strangers. I have my students interact with one another so much during the first few weeks because I am trying to help create an environment in my classroom where my students are able to feel comfortable with one another, as well as with me. When the semester begins, I tend to restrain my personality a bit because I want to emphasize my authority in the classroom. However, as the semester progresses, I can relax a little and let my personality out a bit more.
As a new instructor, I know that I have much more to learn. I strive to be the very best instructor that I can be. One of the best ways that I can gauge this is by considering the thoughts and opinions of my students. I am here because of the students. Throughout the semester, I ask for feedback about the class and my teaching from my students. This helps me to see whether or not my teaching style is working. If there is some aspect of my teaching style that is not working, I want to change it. For example, when I asked for this feedback last fall in my interviewing class, my students told me that it was hard to understand me at times because I talked very quickly. I adapted to this by pacing the lectures more and going at a more relaxed pace, making sure to ask my students if they understood the material being presented. Another example of this is when my students told me that much of the material that I was teaching seemed very redundant. To alleviate this, I restructured the way that I approach lectures, making sure to emphasize new material, while making sure that they still understood the older material.
I also know that my role as a teacher goes beyond the walls of the classroom. I care about my students and how they are outside of the classroom. For example, one of my past students was having a very hard time keeping up with the work in my course while she dealt with problems at home. I worked out a new plan of action for her, making sure that she would have enough time to complete the material for my course. She later sent me an email saying “Thank you for always being so understanding and willing to help. It takes away a lot of stress.” Another student, in an evaluation, wrote, "I believe you're the right person for the job. You're very confident and a great role model to those looking for one."
To date, I’ve had the privilege of teaching the basic speech course, as well as Communication Theory, Persuasion, and Interpersonal Communication & Interviewing. I’ve also provided guest lectures in Business and Professional Speaking and Intercultural Communication. I’m intrigued with each of these courses and, if given the opportunity, would like to expand some of these courses to contain a media literacy component to better prepare students for the real world.
When it is all said and done, I want my students to see that I truly care about them. I don’t want a title or a position to go to my head. If I ever shift the focus from my students to myself, I will need to step back and reevaluate why I am doing what I am doing. I am here for my students 100%. I pour my heart and my soul into my classes and into my students’ lives. Yes, it can be exhausting. Yes, it can be utterly depressing at times. However, if I am able to have an impact on even one of my students, I will count my work as a success.