The Teacher: The Authentic Self?

au·then·tic:

  • not false or imitation: real, actual
  • true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character

I’ve lived in Korea for 7 years:

  • I now can eat spicy food.
  • I’ve been told I use metal chopsticks better than the average Korean.
  • During conversations, I don’t feel uncomfortable during ‘awkward silences’ as I much as I did before.
  • I believe I’ve developed better “nunchi“.
  • When I’m drinking alcohol with someone quite older, I turn away when I take a drink.
  •  I bow when I say “hello” or “goodbye” no matter what country I’m in.

These are behaviors and abilities I didn’t possess before living here. I’ve adapted.

But recently I’ve realized that in my adaptation, I lost a bit of myself. I believe I willingly, yet unknowingly, suppressed parts of my individuality in order to fit in. I somehow managed to silence my uniqueness.

Well, this uniqueness is now raging to be heard!

“The teacher within stands guard at the gate of selfhood, warding off whatever insults our integrity and welcoming whatever affirms it. The voice of the inward teacher reminds me of my truth as I negotiate the force field of my life.”

Through visible signs of frustration, impatience, annoyance, and anger, the authentic me is screaming out . It’s extremely confusing and heart wrenching to wonder why, after 7 years, I now feel this way.

Maybe I’m somehow reinventing myself. Maybe it’s because it’s impossible to suppress our authentic selves.

“Any authenticity call ultimately comes from the voice of the teacher within, the voice that invites me to honor the nature of my true self.”

So knowing this is going on for me, I’ve been wondering: as a teacher in a foreign country, how can you honor and celebrate your true self? I think there is incredible vulnerability in this. In Korea, where saving face is the ultimate code of conduct, being yourself — especially when this “self” is on the fringes — isn’t really an option. So why bother? Why not stay in that safe, communal bubble?

“When I devote myself to something that does not flow from my identity, that is not integral to my nature, I am most likely deepening the world’s hunger rather than helping to alleviate it.”

I accept what Parker Palmer has to say, and I even believe it. However, I still can’t articulate what this all means for me. I have no doubt I’ll be working at alleviating the world hunger that he alludes to, but I can’t tell you what that’ll look like.

All I know is that I am experiencing a big shift, and I think it will have an important/significant impact on my teaching. I wonder if any of you have struggled to “just be yourself” with your students or colleagues. Also, how has your authenticity connected to your students’ lives and learning? When you made the conscious choice to share your true self, what was the result?

“Deep speaks to deep, and when we have not sounded our own depths, we cannot sound to the depths of our students’ lives.”

Do you agree?

Quotes from:

Palmer, Parker J. (1998) The Courage to Teach. Jossey-Bass.

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15 thoughts on “The Teacher: The Authentic Self?

  1. I brought forth a big part of my authentic self over the last few years, learning about the Hetaira archetype and how it fits my nature, and it cost me basically everything. But, here I am starting all over with a new career (Instructor), new girlfriend, in another state. It all blew away in the wind, but I am a butterfly. “Love, costing not less than everything.”
    “The Courage to Teach” is one of the last books I read before all this happened. I was just thinking about that book today. Qaplah!

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    1. It seems we have a similar interest in Star Trek as well as authenticity. :)

      Thank you for stopping by and for sharing your story. It reminds me of how often the greatest losses make way for the greatest gains. It seems as though you may be on this path now. And as an instructor, there is no better guide than Parker Palmer, and of course your heart.

      I am much different than the person who wrote this post a year ago, finding great respect for who I am and differentiating this from where I am. It’s been a tough battle. I lost myself. I’m grateful to have lost that person though. It was time for rebirth.

      Qaplah! ;)

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  2. I’ve been keeping up with the comments on this thread and it is good to read that other people do relate to their learners from an authentic place. I do it myself, but I am aware that this may be frowned upon in some ‘professional’ quarters. There is a real difference, of course, between sharing as a learning opportunity, or to present a different perspective than burdening learners with your own stuff. I am always mindful of the difference.

    I do feel however that if we are merely professional, without our real selves making an appearance, the class and the learning our losing out. We are losing out on our own full experience of life. I have been asked to teach a workshop to my colleagues (always a nerve-wracking business) on Dealing with Challenging Behaviour next month. I am going to have to be really brave and point out that if you only come from a place of professionalism and not from a place of self how do you cope with challenging behaviour – how do you have a place to stand to communicate without ego, de-escalate, listen and be truly present with the challenge of a tricky situation? Professional values can be read and absorbed, but it is your own values and beliefs that will be the ones you need in such circumstances. I am going to have my knees-knocking to make such a suggestion, but I am going to do it anyway!

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    1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful reply. I apologize for taking so long to respond.

      I was touched and inspired by your exploration of the courage one needs to let authenticity shine. “Professional values can be read and absorbed, but it is your own values and beliefs that will be the ones you need in such circumstances.” Isn’t this so true? If we don’t believe, if it doesn’t shine from within, how can we truly be present? It seems to me that your workshop speaks of a topic that demands such presence. It’s in this presence that we have the space to act in the way that the moment demands. If I am working from a place of ego, I am less likely to listen. If I speak from a place of knowing myself, I might be more open to hearing.

      Let me know how the workshop goes! Good luck!

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  3. In a way I’m replying to this by including a comment on another of your blogs where you share your reaction to the movie Invictus. As a South African, one of the things I find the most difficult to deal with is the “hardhandigheid” (literally = hardhandedness) of the Koreans when dealing with each other. Coming from a place which almost tore itself apart through violence, and which still bears the marks of that (one of the highest per capita murder rates in the world), but also having seen there how goodwill and the voices of people worked to bring about change, I cannot keep quiet when I see students hitting and kicking and fighting. I always intervene, and get told by most of them that they are just playing. My response is always that you do not play at violence.This a deeply authentic part of me, and one that will always be there.
    Whether I coat that with eating kimchi with a smile or not is not that important. I think authenticity resides in the deep truths, not in the shallow posturings we sometimes adopt to ‘keep the peace’. The authentic you is always there and is always true, even when it shines through a different facet. A very wise person once told me that each culture you meet will polish a different facet of the diamond that is you!

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    1. Leonie, I am grateful that you have shared your personal/cultural experience in the way that you have here. You clearly articulated a belief that is important to you, and you would not be able to let it slip by unnoticed. It is a deep part of you.

      You remind me that authenticity really isn’t a choice. Thank you for this :)

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  4. I remember something that happened last year. One of the students in a second year hs class wrote something derogatory about a handicapped student on the blackboard. This was not during my class time, but in-between periods.

    The Special Ed teacher was quite upset and angry, which is how I found out about it. I thought for a minute, and decided to talk to the class outside of my class time.

    I went in the classroom, and started to talk about my niece.
    She had a wonderful smile, loved life, and really liked horseback riding. I said that when she was born, she had physical and mental challenges. Some of these she overcame, like learning to walk. She couldn’t do many things, like do complicated math, or learn difficult things, but whenever there was a challenge, she faced it and did her best.

    My niece may have not had the “smarts” and skills as you, but she loved others deeply. When she was in a room, you could feel her presence, and you were happy just because she was happy.

    My niece died when she was 17, her bright smile and laughter now a memory. (At this time, tears fell from my eyes. I paused while I gained control of myself, and then continued. There was absolute silence in the room.)

    I tell you this so that you know that those who have disabilities are people. When you make fun of them, they hurt. Are you stronger because you can make fun of them and they can’t defend themselves? Are you helping them become all they can be? It is easy to destroy, so much harder to build. What will you do?

    I then left the classroom. Later, I was told by some teachers that I had made a deep impression on them. Usually, in Korea, personal moments are not shared with students. By sharing myself at this time, my feelings, and memories, I hoped that my students would learn something valuable.

    There are times that I defer to Korean culture, but I draw from anything to be able to help and to teach my students.

    Sorry for being so long winded, :)

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      1. Thank you Brad :) It’s easier to seek truth when we know we aren’t alone. These comments have definitely reaffirmed this idea.

        I’m so glad you got a chance to read Lee’s comment! We are all luck to have read it. It is such an important story.

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    1. Lee, I feel incredibly touched that you took the time to write and share this poignant moment on my blog. When I read it tears swelled up with the thought of such compassion: the compassion you had for your students in helping them learn this valuable life lesson, and also the compassion for yourself. Despite what you know about not sharing personal stories, you knew that this was important. By being present (authentic), you connected to your students’ humaneness. By connecting to the love you have for your niece, you helped them see something precious and new. Your vulnerbility was an eye(heart)-opening lesson for them, and a gracious lesson for us. Thank you so much.

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