Projecting Confidence in the Classroom

The way that you express yourself in class can project confidence, or it can convey insecurity. If you tend to say things like: “I don’t know very much about this subject,” “I’m not really an expert in this,” or “I’ve never taught this before,” you should make a conscious effort to stop.

It may well be true that you’ve never taught the material before and you’re not an expert. However, you should avoid deprecating yourself as you’ll communicate to your students that they shouldn’t expect to get much out of the class.

Another way that instructors undercut their authority is by ending sentences with a rising intonation (also known as “upspeak“). In other words, by turning statements into questions. This makes it sound like you’re looking for confirmation or support for what you say. Your students may think, “Is she asking us or telling us?”

Some instructors gain confidence from dressing up for class or having students address them with a formal title. Others prefer a more casual style. There isn’t a right or wrong way. Do what makes you feel most comfortable.

Teaching is often described as a kind of performance. You need to present those aspects of your personality that best help you fulfill your responsibilities as a TA. Before stepping into the classroom, take a few minutes to mentally prepare. Just as an actor would be sure to be “in character” before going on-stage, pause to make sure that you are in an appropriate frame of mind—that you are in your assured, energized teacher mode.

This doesn’t mean that you should pretend to be someone you’re not. It also doesn’t mean that you need to demonstrate how smart you are all the time—that will just intimidate and annoy your students. It also puts the focus on you instead of on them and their learning.

Almost every teacher, at one time or another, will feel unqualified or lack self-confidence. Try to keep in mind that you aren’t alone in those feelings, and that your graduate program didn’t make a mistake. As an academic-in-training, you are entitled to your authority in the classroom. Sure, you will make some mistakes—experienced teachers do too. And you do have more to learn about your subject matter and about teaching.  You do, though, belong in the classroom.

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