Becoming an Authentic Community College Teacher

Becoming an Authentic Community College Teacher

Patricia Cranton (Penn State University at Harrisburg, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/javet.2010070101
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Abstract

In this paper, a study of how adult vocational educators develop authenticity in their teaching within a Canadian community college context is presented. Six participants from different disciplines, five of whom were relatively new teachers, and one of whom had considerable experience, were interviewed three times over two years. With the assistance of the participants, narratives were constructed for each educator. Three categories of issues—personal issues (such as confidence), college system issues (policies and procedures), and educational system issues (government mandated curriculum)—were identified as influencing the development of authenticity. Implications for teacher preparation and professional development within the college environment are discussed.
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Authenticity: Background

Authenticity has been defined as the expression of the genuine self in the community and authentic teaching as a process by which teachers in higher education come to know themselves and their preferences within the social context of their work (Cranton, 2001). Brookfield (2006a), in writing directly to college teachers, proposes that being an authentic teacher means having congruence between our words and actions, fully disclosing the expectations and assumptions that guide our practice, and being responsive and helpful with students. Brookfield (2006b) goes on to critique authenticity through the lens of power, pointing out that “being authentic involves staying true to one’s agenda, remaining open and honest about it, and sometimes placing one’s power behind it” (p. 11).

Authenticity in teaching is not only centered in self-knowledge. Jarvis (1992) suggests people are being authentic when they choose to act so as to “foster the growth and development of each other’s being” (p. 113). He sees teachers as consciously having the goal of helping students develop their authenticity. In other words, teachers and students learn together through dialogue as Freire (1972) advocates, and the result of authentic teaching is that “teachers learn and grow together with their students” (Jarvis, 1992, p. 114).

Authenticity is also linked with critical reflection and reflective learning. People develop as autonomous and rational individuals within their social context. Jarvis (1992) says that when people’s actions are controlled by others, their behavior is repetitive and mechanical, and this is inauthentic. Dirkx (2006) accepts that critical reflection is a powerful way for teachers to identify and understand their assumptions about the teaching and learning process, but he goes beyond what he sees as an ego-based process to bring in feelings, intuition and soul work.

Empirical research on authenticity in teaching in higher education is limited. Based on interviews with 22 faculty members from a variety of disciplines, Cranton and Carusetta (2004a) create a model of authenticity that includes five components: self-awareness, awareness of others, relationships, awareness of context, and critical reflection. Using the same data, Cranton and Carusetta (2004b) go on to present a developmental process in which instructors move from “beginning authenticity” to “mature authenticity” as they gain experience. Newer faculty members are more likely to look to authorities for answers and to search for methods and techniques that will help them do a “good job.” More experienced faculty members are more likely to be aware of the complexities of their relationships with students and of the difficulties inherent in authentic teaching within the social structures of their discipline, institution, and culture. These results coincide with some of Palmer’s (1998, 2004) thoughts, especially when he reminds us that technique is not the answer, and that becoming authentic is not a straightforward “onward and upward” journey, but rather an exploration, a search for soul.

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