Authenticity of experience is something that should be high up on every college’s agenda.
It’s very difficult to prepare a student vocationally without modelling what actually goes on in their chosen profession. Good courses go out of their way to let learners sample what really happens out on the shop floor – and help them prepare for it.
This had me thinking about “authenticity” in my own role. Just about every teacher has a persona they take with them when they step to wherever it is they’re teaching. I’ve certainly got one.
Teacher Tom is different to Everything Else Tom, which is a good thing, too, as Everything Else Tom can be a bit of a twonk on fairly regular occasions.
Teacher Tom is a little bit brighter, a little bit more enthusiastic about everything and a little less archly cynical. He also swears at least 98 per cent less than Everything Else Tom (91 per cent if I’m playing basketball at the lunchtime club – it gets kind of serious).
But recently I’ve been mulling over whether the donning of a persona in the classroom might be doing the people that we’re teaching a little bit of a disservice.
If I’m not really being me, then am I really offering my learners an authentic experience? At its core, is it not a type of dishonesty?
In some ways, I think it is. But perhaps it’s a necessary deception (and please, don’t give me that “learners can tell a phony a mile off” line. It’s romanticised gubbins. It’s not true. In general, they’re wide-eyed and trusting of what a teacher says and does, especially if said teacher can make them laugh a bit. Sorry folks.)
My persona has been built around facets that may get students to learn a little bit more in my lessons, but it has been at the price of hiding or masking certain things that make me, well, me.
Learning’s the thing, of course, but it does make me worry that what we’re perpetuating is a way of thinking that says it’s OK to not be who you are if the perceived goals are great enough. I’m not completely on board with that, if I’m honest. And I’d hate it if I thought that was what was being modelled and communicated to the young people that I work with.
Perhaps instead of a full-frontal assault of authenticity, or a donning of a complete mask of persona, maybe I need to make efforts to bring the two parts closer together; to share a little bit more of my true self while still maintaining some of the affected facets I’ve picked up over the years. If only because I’m beginning to think that we need to be presenting in a slightly more honest way to help our students prepare for the fact that not everyone changes themselves because of some perceived need to do so. And neither should they.
Heck, they might even enjoy some of my arch cynicism.
Well, right up until the point when I direct it at them over their lack of completed homework, anyway.
Tom Starkey teaches English at a college in the North of England