Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Mehrsa Baradaran (Georgia), Teaching While Woman:
I was fairly naïve my first few semesters teaching and thought that I would just be myself in the classroom and I would earn the class’s respect (or "R-S-P-E-C-T"). I’m naturally averse to hierarchy and formality and wanted to run a democratic classroom. I didn’t want to impose draconian rules or shame my students into submission—I worked hard to know the materials and offer it in a way that they would learn it—without having to force them to pay attention by forbidding laptops or cold-calling. The result: my first few semesters were disasters. It turns out that they didn’t automatically see me as an authority and a few loud talkers began to dominate my “democratic” classroom. There was also rampant disrespect and eye rolling. I called on a student once who wouldn’t take the lollipop out of his mouth to answer my questions, which he did in a very dismissive way. (I should mention that my 1L classes were predominantly male at BYU).
I knew things weren’t going well so I asked for advice. It turns out this was happening to a lot of my young, female colleagues. This may also happen to some men, but I just didn’t talk to any who could relate. So below is a short list of advice I received and ideas I came up with. The main thing is that I had to get more confident and some of that came naturally, but there are also ways to fake it till you make it.
Before you trust my opinion, rest assured that things have changed a lot. My classroom is under control and my classes are rated well. I even get comments such as this: “Baradaran is the teacher I am most scared of/need to be most prepared for, etc.” Now, this may reveal an overcorrection, but it’s better than total anarchy and disregard.
- You have to assert that you are the alpha dog right away.
- Don’t underestimate the importance of body language.
- Be strict.
- Be kind.