The Importance of Being an Authentic Teacher

Photo by JD Lasica on Flickr

Sharing personal stories and school experiences give students and teachers the ability to connect on a greater scale. Passionate, capable, and genuine are some of the adjectives used to describe an authentic teacher, as opposed to lecturing in front of a class using only a PowerPoint presentation, which is something many professors at Chapman do.

Sara LaBelle, Assistant Professor in the School of Communication at Chapman University, and  Zachary Johnson, a professor of Human Communication at Cal State Fullerton, are both researchers in the field of instructional communication which examines the relationship between teaching and learning.

A study conducted by Labelle focuses on the students perspective regarding how the effectiveness of a teacher improves learning, as well as the first study to examine students perception of teacher authenticity; being genuine, passionate and approachable are some of the characteristics that are listed. In addition to authenticity, other common perceptions of professors include immediacy, and self disclosure.

LaBelle and Johnson also list the qualities of unauthentic teaching. Those characteristics being unapproachable, lack of passion, inattentive, incapable, and disrespectful.

“Every single student of the nearly 300 who participated in our study had a very clear idea of their most and least authentic instructors,” LaBelle said.

“The culture of Chapman and its intense focus on personalized education attract genuine, passionate, approachable, and attentive teachers, LaBelle said. Our data suggests that this does affect the success of their classes!”

When Chapman students were asked to describe an authentic teacher, they used adjectives such as passionate, approachable, attentive, and capable. All adjectives that were also used in the study.  

Brenny Sypolt, a senior screen acting major said that her professor, Michael Nehring represents an authentic teacher because his passion for Shakespeare. This makes her excited to go to class every day.

As a screen acting major, my courses can be incredibly emotionally and physically draining. My professors’ enthusiasm and love for their craft is what motivates me to be the best I can be,” Sypolt said.

Sypolt gave an example of an assignment she was given last semester that the teacher was so passionate about, it made her feel like she was learning something of higher value.

“I had to do a in-depth analysis of a Shakespearean monologue, which involved tapping into a very sad place in my psyche. My professor had so much love for Shakespeare and the meaning behind his words that it gave me the courage to continue my analysis. My professor’s passion radiated onto me and I felt just as excited about my craft as he did,” Sypolt said.

Senior IES major Sylvia Tavetian said an authentic teacher, such as her educational studies teacher, shows sympathy for her students. Sympathy was not originally stated as a characteristic in the original study.

“When I am in my classes, I may be tired or worn out, but my professor can tell when I have had a bad day. They check in to see how I am doing and even that means a lot to me. I love knowing that I am cared about by my professors, it is really a great feeling,” Tavetian said.

When junior business major Sydney Smith, was asked about who she believes is an authentic teacher, her professor Niklas Myhr came to mind.

“I can tell that when he is standing up in front of the class he is passionate about what he is teaching. He cracks jokes and makes an effort to get to know his students,” Smith said. “I find myself paying attention more in class and I have become more passionate about my learning as well.”

Jackie Samuelsen

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