There are many issues that instructors face, including the sometimes tricky balancing act of negotiating personal identity in the classroom. By “identity” I mean the many ways that we both identify ourselves (e.g., teacher, parent, student, woman, etc.) and the ways we are identified (e.g., black, lesbian, nerd, etc.). Questions of identity affect all that we do in the university such as teachers, learners, and scholars. See for example this article about LGBT identities in the classroom.
As instructors, there are certain ways that we become identified and there are other ways we can choose to reveal our identity. We don’t get the option to keep everything about ourselves completely private. We must navigate through the sometimes tricky maze of disclosing relevant aspects of our identity and deciding how much to share about ourselves, particularly in the classroom. Working from the assumption that classrooms are more than a place of education, teaching and learning, scholars, such as Stephen Brookfield, will argue the classroom is a place of self-reflective practice: a place for approaching questions of identity while also committing to professional growth, begging questions about how to be authentic. What does it mean to be authentic?
Following from Parker Palmer, I argue that understanding how to be authentic to yourself involves an intentional practice for “Self-Renewal”
Parker Palmer, noted scholar on teaching and higher education calls this work “the divided life.” He is speaking about our inner truth and outer actions. He calls for teachers to claim the courage to “speak and act in ways that contradict or compromise our identity and integrity.” The POSSIBILITY is that we can decide to live “divided no more,” bringing our inner truth and outer actions into deeper alignment, for our own sake and the sake of those we serve. In this video Palmer discusses the importance of the “undivided life.”
How do we enter into the practice of self-renewal, given the tricky maze of identity:
- On one level, part of this tricky maze concerns the value of building trust in the classroom among your students.
- On another level this negotiation concerns the visible identities we are called, such as one’s skin color, gender markers, and/or accent.
- On yet one further level, this negotiation may also include identities which are private, including one’s status a recovering alcoholic, or a non-visible disability, sexuality or sexual orientation, and others.
We invite you to share your perspective on this topic:
- What have you learned about yourself and how you are “identified” in the classroom?
- What are ongoing challenges with how students (and/or colleagues) choose to identify you?
- Could this be a question of fair-mindedness? You might ask yourself: to what extent do I privilege my own bias in relation to self-identity issues? (ie. In the classroom, do I keep private some of my key identity markers (such as being gay), yet these very identity makers may may enter into my relationship-building with students or my interpretation of knowledge).