Back in the day when I was a teacher, I was often called “authentic” or “real.” People said, “You’re yourself, even in the classroom!”
I found this very odd. Who else would I be? ESPECIALLY in the classroom. It was one of the many mysteries of my career that fell under the heading, “What do other teachers do?”
I have no idea. When anyone said it to me, I wondered if other teachers put on a “teacher suit” and walked into their classes every day. For that matter, anyone at any job is not 100% themselves. We all play roles at work. Here’s me teaching:
Walk into the classroom — probably early. Sit down and assemble tools for the hour or however long the class is. Get the file of this class’ work out of your bag, gather handouts if appropriate, load the slide show if there is one, answer questions from the ones who’ve learned if they get there early they get time with the teacher. Joke around with students. Class fills. Look at the clock. At the appointed hour (or a couple minutes after, depending) assuming a (usually sincerely) friendly smile, look around the room. In my eyes is a SECOND message, “We’re starting now,” and the show began.
It was a performance. Always. I haven’t done any of it ONCE since I retired.
But, there were surprises, too. Maybe my “authenticity” emerged in THOSE moments like the time a student I liked, who liked me, said, “Fuck you!” He was angry and he meant it.
How did I “authentically” handle that? “You might want to leave now,” is what I said to him, quietly knowing that the other students’ eyes were on me. What I authentically meant was, “Get out of here before I call security.”
Of course, the kid had to come BACK to class. I knew the moment would come but not when or how. Sure enough, several days later the kid was waiting for me in the hall outside the classroom.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I was…”
“I know. That kind of thing just hurts you. You have to learn to keep your shit together. Come back to class.”
Was that authentic? Yes and no. I happened because of the contract I had signed with the university that carried with it the implication of a contract between me and my students. And that contract carried the notion that “You’re going to be interacting with 19 year olds. There’s no way to accurately assess their mental states at any given moment. Wear a psychic flak jacket when you go in there, and carry vases for the roses you’ll receive.”
What was authentic? I believed in what I was teaching. That was 100% real. I liked my students. I enjoyed the classroom. All of that, authentic. Maybe that was “different,” but I’ll never know.