Each of us develops a teaching persona over time – our way of both claiming and sharing power, authority, and content knowledge in the classroom. It involves emotions (ours and our students), behaviors, and the interplay between them and the physical environment of the classroom. This is the first in a series of posts about how we go about constructing our teaching persona.
Since 2009, I have primarily taught what my institution calls “supersections” – classes of more than 125 students, most often about 225-275 students. I had to rethink nearly every aspect of my teaching when I “went big” – some changes I had expected and planned for, but some I had not. In my case, the “big” class is Introduction to Sociology, a general education course in the social sciences and a required course for our major as well as for pre-nursing and a few other majors.
My classroom environment before I “went big” was fairly interactive; lots of focused discussions with about 40-50 students. I was a “percher”; I sat on the edge of the professor’s desk most of the time, but made sure that my eyes and attention constantly swept the room, looking directly at students, encouraging them to jump in, sometimes non-verbally stopping side conversations, etc. But “perching,” however wouldn’t work in a room the size of my new classroom*. There wasn’t a desk in the front to perch on (only a podium), but even more importantly, there was no way I could stay in eye contact with students in an auditorium-style room that held up to 350 students.
Instead, I constructed a teaching persona that involved “mobile pedagogy.” I am not the “sage on the stage” because I am out among my students. I walk constantly during a 75-minute class (my Fitbit says that I get about 5,000 steps in every class period). And I am not the only one walking! If I walk up one aisle, one of my Graduate Assistants is walking down the other aisle, and the other GA is walking across the middle aisle. We’re constantly moving, dropping into conversations during Think-Pair-Share moments, looking for technology being used (a normative violation), and being available for a student to ask a private question.
So how has “mobile pedagogy” changed how I teach? Trust me, I’m not talented enough to walk, talk, change PPT slides, and hold notes too, so I have given up notes. Instead what I do is arrive at my classroom about 90 minutes in advance of class (yes, I am know that I am very lucky that I ask for my room not to be scheduled in the time slot before my class and my request is honored every semester!) and get set up. I practice my PPTs a few times before any student arrives, becoming comfortable with the flow of the class. So once class starts, I just walk and talk and don’t ever have to look at notes (in fact, I don’t have any notes!).
Students quickly discover that because I and my graduate assistants walk around so much, that it is hard to hide in or check out from our class. A group of students having a side conversation? I’ll walk over to them and stay there for a few minutes…and the conversation stops. The back row looks a bit disinterested? Walk there and join the conversation.
But this past spring I had to relearn what I already knew – the physical aspects of a teaching persona is in part a function of the classroom environment. I taught a “small class” in another classroom (25 students). I used this pedagogical walking technique and both students and I felt like I was a caged animal, just pacing back and forth across the front of the room, because there wasn’t space to walk to the back of the room, etc. Clearly, I had to retool my physical teaching persona. . . fast, if I wanted the class dynamics to get better.
So how do you construct the physical aspects of your teaching persona? What decisions, conscious or not, have shaped how you use the classroom to your pedagogical advantage?
*Luckily this auditorium-style room has slanted floors, which makes it easier to walk, given my disability, than other rooms which have lots of steps.