Teaching as Service

My cat...not being of maximum service to my productivity last semester.
My cat…not being of maximum service to my productivity last semester.

On my CV, there are a number of sections, but two are relevant this week – “teaching” and “service to the university.” Recently I got to thinking that really, the two ought to be combined with teaching listed under service.

All of the articles this week confirmed my hypothesis. If you had asked me a year ago to teach a class, it would have been a no-go. I didn’t know enough; I had never taught before; I wasn’t trained – all of it came down to the fact that I was scared. I was scared of what the students would think of me; scared that I wasn’t enough; scared of not having the answers; scared of all of it.

I did a lot of soul searching in the last year and have come to one conclusion: All I have to do every day is try to be of maximum service to the people with whom I meet and interact.

Once I applied that philosophy to my teaching, the “scared-ness” went away.

All I have to do is try to be of maximum service to my students at all times. That means doing the best lesson planning I can; being authentic as I engage with them in lecture; admitting I don’t have hall the answers; and being humble.

I don’t have to try and be funny, or witty, or loud, or anything else I’m not. I just have to be me. And that can mean different things on different days and weeks depending on my workload in other places.

Sarah Deel mentions in her teaching post that “I will always be thinking about how to be a better teacher, but this acceptance of my teaching voice as an extension of myself is freeing.”

So it is with me. The less concerned I am with how much my students like me, or don’t like me, the more I can focus on creating effective lessons.

I’m learning this focus also has implications for how my students react and interact with me. Teaching Women’s and Gender Studies can be a tricky subject, especially when I make a point from the outset to let students my intro class isn’t going to focus on some of their experiences (eg: the men) except incidentally. Because I’m invested in teaching my lessons and not about the personality factor, I have yet to have anyone challenge my authority or be overtly hostile when I presented an idea with which they don’t agree.

For example, I called a student out in the second week for sitting with his hands over his face like he was sleeping for half the class. The next week he apologized for being late to class because he missed the bus. Now he regularly speaks in class and is one of my better students.

He could have decided, after I called him out, to ignore me or directly challenge me. Instead, I think because that same week I also called out a woman who was using her cell phone in class (a no-no listed on the syllabus), that I wasn’t directly picking on him, but rather trying to create a conducive learning environment for everyone.

So, to the original point, teaching as service. That’s it, pretty basic. Do what I can to be of maximum service and don’t beat myself up when I don’t always get it right.


6 thoughts on “Teaching as Service

  1. I agree with you. One should be himself or herself when teaching a class. Being passionate about what you are doing and giving it all you can is the way to go. Teaching is not just a job but a service like you said, a skill that improve over time, a hobby, and a way of life. There is nothing more rewarding than inspiring students and make them enjoy what they are learning. When you are passionate about teaching and being nothing but yourself, you can create an enjoyable learning atmosphere for everybody and that would be an easy task because you are comfortable with the way you perceive yourself and reflect that in the classroom. I have to mention though that calling student out is tricky. I understand you are being fair but I feel that this can have negative effect on different people. Some students might be offended or take it too personal which might result in them loosing interest in the class.

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  2. Hi Katie –
    I really like your post. I agree with you about making yourself available to your students and providing maximum service to them. In response to Rafic, I agree that calling people out in class can be tricky. But my guess is that Katie has been very authentic and approachable in this class, that when she called them out, the students didn’t feel offended, but maybe just embarrassed for themselves? I can see how a student would be offended if the professor wasn’t approachable, or just wasn’t good at teaching, but if the professor is doing an excellent job and is authentic and approachable, I don’t think the student would take it personally. But I can see both of your points.

    Thanks for sharing!


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  3. I’ve probably said this before, but I really appreciate your candor and the self-awareness that went into this post. I remember every single one of those fears you mentioned, and some of them took many years to abate. Reframing your approach to teaching as service makes so much sense. And, as you say, as long as you do your best, it will be fine. In the end that’s all we can expect of anyone, especially ourselves.

    (P.S. Your cat needs some lessons helpfulness on the desktop. Also, I think calling the student out for “sleeping” and using the phone is fine.)

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  4. I like your post.

    “I’m learning this focus also has implications for how my students react and interact with me.”
    This sentence resinated with me because i think it was important that you took the time to pay attention to your interaction with student, but more so how students react. This is important because we are all different and when an educator pays attention to students reactions inadvertently we tweaking how to be better or how to get the student to be better.

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  5. Your idea of approaching teaching as a service resonates with me. It is very hard to be a good teacher if it is just looked upon as another job. At the end of the day, we are trying to help our students learn. From there on, it is indeed just about being yourself. It’s almost like there are no special job descriptions — it’s about going out there and helping fellow humans learn about something we are (presumably) more knowledgeable at.


  6. I appreciate your post! I like how you paralleled teaching with service, because I believe that teachers are a disservice to students who are unable to reach a mastery level and transfer applied knowledge and skills beyond the campus or classroom walls.

    I found a quote after reading your post that I wanted to share:

    “We have a responsibility to ensure that every individual has the opportunity to receive a high-quality education, from prekindergarten to elementary and secondary, to special education, to technical and higher education and beyond.” – Jim Jeffords


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