The word “authentic” has a very positive connotation. For example, this word may make you think of authentic Mexican food, authentic jewelry, or authentic clothing. But, have you ever thought about what it means to be an authentic teacher? As a result of observations in my Methods of Teaching class this semester, I got into a discussion with my roommate about how to be an authentic teacher. My class had observed two dance classes in two different schools, back to back. The first teacher had a really hard time connecting with her students. She did not talk on their level. The students were completely uninterested in her, and as a result, uninterested in the content as well. In contrast, my class found quite the opposite at the second school. The teacher related to the students, related the content to them, and spoke to them as people. This class ran quite differently than the previous class.
Not even two hours after this discussion with my roommate, I was working on homework for my Methods of Teaching class and came across a brilliant article in our packet of assigned reading. It is titled, “’Authenticity Makes a Teacher,” by American journalist, teacher, and lecturer Sydney Harris. The author presented the ideas I had just been talking about with my roommate but in a much more eloquent way than I ever could! Harris discusses that genuine authority “comes out of the depths of the personality.” He claims that if you want to have a light rein on your students and still be able to have enough discipline for the trouble-makers, you must be yourself. He says, you must find your “humanhood” or you are “still playing with masks and roles and status symbols, and nobody is more aware of this difference (although unconsciously) than a child.” One of my favorite lines is “only person is resonant to person.” It is an art to “tune in to the other’s wave length.” Harris explains, “until they have liberated themselves (not completely but mostly) from what is artificial and unauthentic…they cannot communicate, counsel, or control others.” Harris shows that the teachers we remember the most tend to be those that looked, talked, and connected to us as humans. They were not just a teacher during class, but instead, gave a “fullness of themselves.”
So how can you be more authentic? I think one of the best ways to be authentic is to relate to your students. Sometimes this can be hard if we are different from our students. Get to know their culture, race, age, generation, socio-economic status, background, etc. Realize what would relate to them based on these factors. Learn everything you can about these factors and add them into your lessons. Pay attention to who you are teaching. What do they care about? What concepts can you relate to their everyday life that will resonate with them? Help them make relevant connections. Sometimes, unconsciously, we give subliminal messages to our students. Not everyone is the same and it is important to show these differences. What motivates you may not motivate them. When you do this, it also shows how much you care about your students. They will notice, respond positively, and often reciprocate. My Methods of Teaching professor, Pam Musil, said it wonderfully. “If you establish a good relationship with your students, you can get them to do anything.” A great example of this is from the movie “Freedom Writers.” The movie is based on a true story of a teacher who, despite a different background than her students, found ways to be both herself as well as relate to the experiences and challenges they were facing. If you have not seen it, I highly recommend watching it!
Being both an authentic teacher as well as an authentic person is key. Sydney Harris ends his article saying that authentic teachers “are extremely rare, and they are worth more than we can ever pay them. It should be the prime task of a good society to recruit and develop these personalities for safeguarding our children’s futures.”