New faculty members are given a host of advice, much of it confusing, about teaching personae — i.e., how to comport yourself in the college classroom. The advice tends to fall into two categories:
- Half of the time you’re told to “just be yourself” — as if the self is a stable and known entity, always the same no matter the context.
- Another chunk of advice tells new teachers to wear the mask of the authoritative professor — perhaps by emulating a favorite academic from your own education. But that tactic overlooks the way that such masks don’t fit all faces. Not everyone feels comfortable pretending to be someone else.
Both kinds of advice suffer from a misplaced focus on identity, I think. It’s not easy, nor is it advisable, to try to change who you are. Much better to try to change what you do. It’s much more useful to think about your teaching persona as made up of deliberate choices you make about how you will act in the classroom — for specific reasons — than it is to try to be a certain kind of teacher. If you are guided by actions, instead of identity, you can decide on actions to further your pedagogical goals. That approach has little to do with what kind of person you are, and much more to do with what kind of class you want to create.