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.



26 thoughts on ““Authentic?”

  1. I so enjoyed this, Martha, and wish I’d had some profs like you. That sentence “Wear a psychic flak jacket when you go in there, and carry vases for the roses you’ll receive” could be a good preparation for much of life. Thanks, and best hopes for your preparation and upcoming surgery. Maybe it will eventually be easier to get out and walk in those mountains?

    • I hope so, Beth. It seems like mountain hikes are a long way off, but I think that’s because I’ve been dealing with decreasing ablities for a while now and haven’t wrapped my mind around the fact that things are getting better. I’ll get there. 🙂

  2. being truly yourself is the gift to your students. An acquaintance of mine once said “you don’t teach a subject, you teach yourself”, meaning that it all comes through you. Learning to work and be in a way that is your way is important, and somewhat rare. We all have “roles” that we play, some more genuinely than others. I rarely pull out my doctor role anymore, and if needed, its there. Authentic in as many of the roles as I can be, and of course the cleaner of cat boxes and the doc in an emergency may appear a bit different.

    • Your acquaintance was right. Students know when the prof is detached from the material and from them. I believe it was my conviction that carried the most weight. When my bidness students would say (and they did) “Why should I listen to you? You’re making a fraction of the money I’ll make when I get out of here.” I actually had an answer. “Right now I am doing exactly what I WANT to do. Maybe I’m making a third of what an executive makes, but I wouldn’t trade my days with you guys in the classroom for that guy’s day in the office or the money he makes. I could have gone that road. I CHOSE this one.” Sort of a long “fuck you and your superficial bullshit, child.” 😉

    • That sounds like a good idea. I used squirt guns once with a group of Japanese students who would NOT speak English. It shocked them into teaching me Japanese obscenities and speaking English because it made speaking English a LOT less serious than they were used to it being in their Japanese high school. 🙂

  3. You are right, actually. They DO put on their “teacher suit” — which comes with a special layer of pomposity and failure to grasp the humanity of their students.

    I suppose what they really mean is “natural.” You aren’t putting on a special face for the purpose of teaching: you are doing what you do without a false face. Just like “awesome.” Nothing called awesome in the past 20 years has BEEN awesome, except maybe the meteorite crashing into Russia. That was awesome and Elon Musk’s Tesla in space is also awesome, or I think it is.

    The rest of it? I think of it as part of the diminishing vocabulary that parallels humanity’s diminishing intelligence.

    Speaking of authentic. We ARE authentic. At this point in our lives, I would certainly HOPE so. If we have not yet achieved authenticity, we are probably made in China and will dissolve during our first washing.

  4. LMAO Marilyn. What a hoot! As for you being authentic, Martha, I imagine it was your enjoyment, delight in teaching. When a teacher is going through the paces to get to retirement, as my kids often experienced, there was no excitement, no desire to be there, to teach. They were burned out or rotten teachers from the get-go with no real desire to enlighten, encourage or enhance students lives. They simply were done caring.

    • I’ve known people who confused being authentic with letting out the worst aspects of themselves. I have an acquaintance here who does that and then attempts to excuse being mean with, “Well that’s just me” or “Everyone has a right to their opinion.” She doesn’t think about whether her being herself makes it impossible for others to be themselves or whether her opinion is at all helpful. The person that’s hardest on is her. 😦

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