On Teaching Fashion: Finding Balance

As the term (and year) comes to a close, I’ve been reflecting quite a bit.  Next term, I will be teaching three courses.  Two of these courses are new to me.  The first time teaching a course can lead to a lot of anxiety.  However, it does get easier.  Finding balance in teaching comes with time.  There are many concerns and anxieties that accompany leading a classroom. I’ve noticed common themes in my own concerns in anxieties over teaching and those of my colleagues.  It’s important to keep these concerns and anxieties in perspective.  Here are the top three tips that have helped me find balance:

  • Progress, not perfection: Teaching something for the first time is always a challenge.  Timing lectures and activities can be tricky.  Getting a handle on your presentations may not always go as smoothly as anticipated.  There will always be unforeseen difficulties in preparing a new course.  Three years ago, my anxiety about giving the perfect lecture left me with insomnia.  No one is expecting perfection on the first try.  Perfection is a self-imposed, self-defeating standard.  Teaching, like learning, is cumulative.  It is intended that you will teach the course in the future, so there will be time to work out the kinks.  Progress happens over time.  Focus on getting better rather than being perfect.
  • Feedback is not judgement: Developing content for a course tends to be done in solitude. A majority of my time preparing for courses is spent alone.  Reading books, writing assignments, creating lectures or activities, grading papers – these are all preparations that require concentration and time alone.  As an adjunct instructor, I don’t see much of colleagues.  All this alone time made my first peer observations absolutely terrifying.   Having another instructor or the department chair in the back of the classroom, taking notes, can be nerve-racking.  It can feel like a trial.  Yet these observations and feedback are actually very helpful.  They are less about judgement and more about helping you to become a better instructor.  Reviewing peer observations provides new ideas for approaching lectures and assignments.
  • Emotional detachment: Passion and enthusiasm are essential to teaching a great course.  Part of what led me to teaching was my unrelenting interest in fashion and art.  To say that I feel strongly about what I do is an understatement.  A life without fashion or art would be devoid of meaning.  I realize that not everyone feels this way.  However, it can be very puzzling to encounter a student that doesn’t seem to care.  It is very easy  to zone in on students that are uninterested or not dedicated.  For many years, I internalized this disinterest.  Was I doing something wrong?  How could I change their mind?  I felt a variety of emotions about these kinds of students.  I felt sad that they did not see the value in a subject I loved so much.  I felt guilt that it was somehow my responsibility to change them but couldn’t.  I felt angry that they were somehow wasting time and money.  These emotions were just a waste of energy.  Ultimately, each student has their own journey.  Their overall attitudes and work ethic have nothing to do with you or the course you’re teaching.  Don’t internalize each students’ attitudes.  Focus on what you can control.  Do your best and offer assistance.

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