Teaching Personas: Teaching for Learning & Teaching Who We Are

8 Oct

What do your students want/need to know about you? What is your “teaching persona?” Think about how you introduce yourself.  Knowing your educational background, research interests, or clinical specialty will help students find you credible. When it fits, tell students a bit about you as a person…pets, hobbies, etc.  When appropriate, acknowledge difficulties you may have had when first learning the topic you are teaching.  When you tell a story about how you messed up on a case, they will never forget the point you are making!

In this short clip from a Spring 2014 presentation, UArizona professor Ed Prather reminds a large audience of faculty and graduate student instructors, mainly from STEM colleges and departments, that we do bring – create – our individual teaching personas, that we do have to embrace adoption of personas in teaching, and that drawing on a multi-dimensional teaching “self” does make a difference in what’s going to happen in the classroom.

Teaching effectively requires that we – teachers and students – are present in the classroom.  Aware of the whole enterprise and the individuals gathered for what really is the interactive, personal and public work of learning and teaching.  Wayne Blvens-Tatum says this on consideration of how he’s developed as a teacher, developed teaching presences over time:

As I’ve gotten better at teaching, my teaching persona has edged ever closer to whatever might pass for my “real” persona. After enough years, I’ve started to grow more comfortable with myself in the classroom, more comfortable tolerating a certain amount of levity and personal disclosure I couldn’t have mustered seventeen years ago. Because I know how to maintain control, I don’t fear mutiny. Because I’m confident in my abilities, I’m more willing to admit my weaknesses or my lapses. Because I’m not trying to persuade my students that I’m not a fraud, I also tend to be more open and even to like the students more. An actor sees an audience, but I see individuals and personalities, and, I think, come across as more of a real person to them in consequence.

Bill Phillips, a Central Florida faculty member, draws on research literature to offer five thinking points regarding enacting a “teaching persona” in face-to-face or online settings. It is, he proposes:

  • the professional “self” put forth when you teach students, a personal style, an in class presence,
  • a match with your critical beliefs.
  • a mode of interaction/facilitation that motivates student learners,
  • an accumulative of roles – cognitive, affective and managerial roles, and
  • one’s public teaching personality, teaching style.

For me, the persona I bring to the classroom is “cousin” – it’s a role I know well as #43 among 48 first cousins, and #7 among 7.  And it’s a multi-faceted role for me:  My own cousins have sometimes didactically taught or dialogically shared tacit information, underexplored ideas and divergent perspectives with me, have more often facilitated new thinking by sharing their lives with me, have sometimes stood back as I stumbled along but then offered a hand as I began to rise from a fall.  From this context, I have learned to be willing to talk about learning and life, willing to reflect and speculate and plan in the company of my students as well as my cousins.

Hearing Prather’s voice, reviewing Phillips slideset, and recently re-reading these three pieces has recently helped me come back to thinking clearly about teaching and the complex persona that comes into the room with me.  Perhaps they’ll provoke similarly helpful, reflective, provocative, even troubling thinking for readers, wherever you are in a teaching career.


2 Responses to “Teaching Personas: Teaching for Learning & Teaching Who We Are”

  1. Laura 13 October 2014 at 12:27 pm #

    I tell my students different things about me depending on what class I teach, For right now, for some reason, I have gotten to talking about Feminism a lot with my composition class. In my communications class, which has a LOT of guys in technical fields, I end up talking about the work I have done at corporations and how writing has helped me to get good jobs so they can see that they can get promoted by being able to write well. And I usually drop in some juicy tidbits about my life as well, although they always have to have a point to them, not just be something I have dropped in for the heck of it!

  2. UMinnTeachLearn 13 October 2014 at 2:11 pm #

    Having a point to the disclosure – yes, that teachable moment point is important. As one of my colleagues would say of these moments when we choose to disclose, to reveal multiple personas – or not: Context is Queen.

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