Developing Your Teaching Voice

In the book Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon argues that we are all a mashup of what we choose to live in our life. No one is an original. I think this is especially true in teaching. No one is an original teacher but that doesn’t mean we can’t develop our own voice as educators. 

The Emulation Phase

Many newer teachers when they first start teaching simply emulate what they saw their teachers doing when they were in school.
My teacher gave worksheets so I give worksheets. My teachers had a spelling test on Friday so guess what…I have a spelling test on Friday. This continues to happen over and over again because emulation is the first step in finding your own voice.

My Story

In the book Louder than Words, author Todd Henry describes the emulation state as the state where you imitate others. Personally I spent my first three years of teaching trying to emulate other teachers. If my friend did something I did it without even thinking about why I was doing it. It wasn’t until I started to diverge (the second phase in finding your own voice) that I really started to develop my own voice as a teacher.

So why did I diverge from what I was doing? One main reason was I was getting bored. I was never the pull the unit 2 file out of the cabinet teacher, but I was bored. The work I was doing was not challenging me to think outside of the box. It was almost becoming too easy to simply pull the worksheet out and hit the autopilot button. This was causing both my students and I to engage in this battle of boredom that neither of us liked.

The second reason I choose to diverge from what I was doing was because my environment changed. I was given a room with 15 computers in it. Previously I only had 3-4 computers in my room. With 15 machines I was able to dive more into the edtech world and try new and innovate ideas that reignited my passion and my students desire to learn. The following year I continued to evolve when I was given a 30 seat iMac lab. That was the year that I feel I really started to diverge and find my voice as a teacher.

So how can you find your voice as a teacher?

Below are a few questions that I challenge you to ask yourself. These are the questions that I used when I started to diverge from what was comfortable and move into more challenging work.

  1. What are you doing right now that you feel is too easy?
  2. If money and time were not an issue what is something that you would do in your classroom? How could you do this with your current resources?
  3. What do you wish your teachers would have done when you were in school?
  4. What annoys you about teaching? What can you do to fix this?

What now? 

If you are in the emulation phase I would encourage you to try and diverge from what you are doing. Start small. Don’t feel like you need to throw everything out and start over tomorrow. Commit to one small activity that you can perform this week. At the end of the week check in and see how everything went. If you are comfortable with the small change make another small change. These small wins will eventually add up and give you the encouragement to continue to develop your own authentic voice and ultimately lead to a happy teacher and happy students. 

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