Teaching Tip Tuesday: Do You Teach Like You Were Parented?

Today’s post is more of a reflection exercise than a tip, but I think this is an important question to ponder. The other day I was telling someone about my mother’s parenting philosophy, saying, “Her expectations for us were always very clear, but she largely left it up to us to figure out how we wanted to meet them.” It dawned on me in that moment that I could have very well been describing my approach to teaching. It made me wonder how many of us teach like we were parented or how much of our teaching is a reaction to how we were parented.

I don’t mean to suggest that teaching and parenting are on the same level, but the more I thought about it, how could my teaching not reflect at least some of how I was parented? After all, parents are teachers in a sense even if they don’t see themselves that way. If you are a teacher, I’m betting you’ve at least thought about how your teaching is a reflection of how you were taught by other teachers. Perhaps you had some horrible teachers, and so you’ve committed to being the total opposite. Or perhaps you had a teacher whose compassion and encouragement stays with you to this day, and so you attempt to emulate that teacher. Reflecting on these experiences helps us regulate our approach to teaching in the classroom. Knowing, for example, that I had strong relationships with teachers because of my advanced learning style has helped me as a teacher to realize that my early approach to teaching (namely, teaching to students like myself and no one else) needed serious rethinking. How many of your course policies are dictated by your former teachers’ policies? How about structuring a class? Responding to student emails? Setting and managing expectations? When we say things like, “students can’t write anymore” or “no one does the reading anymore.” How much of that thinking is grounded entirely in our own experiences as students with specific teachers?

Equally important is to reflect on how we were parented and how we might carry those experiences into the classroom. As I mentioned above, my own mother’s approach was to clarify her expectations for us and to let us alone to figure out how to meet them. The upside of this was how little micro-managing I experienced. This helped me become independent and ambitious. The lack of specific guidance also meant I made a lot of mistakes. My mother’s expectations never waivered (nor did her confidence in my ability to figure it out), and she was always supportive when one of my mistakes blew up in my face. I realize now that my approach to teaching is a reflection and response to this upbringing. It is reflected in my approach to assignment design (broad strokes instructions with a lot of wiggle room) and assessment (co-created, supportive). Unlike my mother, I do offer students a lot of optional instruction for a given unit or task (examples, resources, descriptions in multiple modes). This additional instruction is optional because some people need more support and guidance than I did to “figure it out,” and that’s okay.

How does your teaching reflect and/or respond to how you were parented?

Stay tuned for more posts this year about teaching, research, and academia. Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @litambitions and Instagram: @ecacademic (where I really nerd out about planning). You can also follow this blog (see the email subscribe button on the home page).

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