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Finding My Teaching Voice

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Prior to college, I had zero experience teaching and conveying information to others. This changed my freshman year of undergrad where I started working as a tour guide for my university, and later became an orientation leader. Through these positions, I learned how to convey information about the university, it’s policies, campus life, etc. and I loved it! Engaging with perspective students and parents through tours and panels was so fun. Thinking back to these experiences, I think this is where I began the process (that I am still on) of finding my teaching voice.

My undergraduate institution did not have TAs, so my first experience with TAs did not occur until last fall when I became a TA for Public Speaking. Although we had a fairly intense week-long GTA training before stepping foot in the classroom, I found myself leaning on some of the skills and tactics I had learned as an OL and tour guide (checking in with your audience for understanding, adding subtle humor throughout, trying to be approachable).

While these are all skills I still use today, I’ve also spent more time reflecting on my teaching style now that I am in my third semester of doing it. I had similar feelings to Deel when it came to grading in that I felt the need to grade their fairly and uniformly. However, in my second semester I realized that by doing so I was doing my students a disservice. They are all growing and progressing as speakers at different rates, so me grading them ‘fairly’ ended up being ‘unfair’ because it didn’t acknowledge their growth. They are all completing the assigned speeches, but the approach they take to do so varies and I think it’s important to recognize that.

Establishing boundaries while remaining genuine is something that I am still working on, and probably will have to do for some time. As a young, petite female, I cannot rely on a large presence or booming voice to assert myself as a teacher. Consequently, I have to rely on skill sets I actually do have. I also have my students call me ‘Ms. B’ rather than Emma because that helps to set myself apart, while still being approachable. I am excited about growing more comfortable in the classroom over the past few semesters as it has allowed me more space to begin thinking about how to achieve a more student-centered learning approach, engage with them more, and create a better experience for all involved.

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  1. I love your parallels between teaching and your experience as an orientation leader. I think orientation leaders come off as open and friendly, which could help reduce students possibly being intimidated in the classroom! Similarly, I have been in various leadership positions throughout both work life and student organizations, including teaching/choreographing dance. I definitely find myself using similar tactics when leading a group in a casual setting versus formal teaching, even though the subject matter is completely different.

  2. Hey Ms. B!
    I can appreciate how your skills learned as an orientation leader has transferred into your teaching. We all have to tap into our experiences to guide us as we develop our teaching voice and there are no doubt many takeaways that will help you in your journey as an educator. My one piece of advice is to not sell yourself short (that’s a pun because you identified as petite) because some of the biggest personalities I’ve ever met have been home in smaller bodies. I think with time you may come to learn that you don’t have to “assert yourself as a teacher” so much as you must tap into who you are, using your strengths and experiences to prepare learning experiences and guide students on that path. I believe when we show students our authentic teaching selves, they naturally respond with respect and cooperation, willingness to learn and excitement to be present. You’re right about boundaries, they can seem kind of fuzzy as a graduate student–because we are both students and teachers, and that can be confusing! I am confident that you will continue to explore what that means for you and how you can leverage your talents and experiences to inform your pedagogy and praxis in the classroom.

  3. I enjoyed reading about your experience as an orientation leader and a tour guide. I am always impressed by how well tour guides can project their voices as well as the amount of information they memorize. It sounds like your undergraduate experiences prepared you to be an effective public speaking instructor. I appreciate that you grade students based on their progression. Everyone is afraid of public speaking, so I think grading students based on their improvement is fair. Personally, I know I talk quickly when I am nervous and sometimes my mouth goes dry. If I were in your class, I would be grateful if you noticed when I talked slowly when presneting. I am glad you are teaching publich speaking here at VT – it sounds like a good fit for you!

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