Confidence in the classroom is a quality in teaching that some people may struggle with as an instructor. Despite having a high level of knowledge and experience, new instructors can battle this perception of ability. This is a quality that I personally have struggled with for a number of years during my time as a graduate student. The thought of having to speak in front of a group of people was always something that terrified me and as result influenced my confidence. When I began graduate school it was clear that public speaking was not a task I could avoid and this fear was something I would have to face.
Naturally, my uneasiness of public speaking crept into my confidence in the classroom as a teaching assistant. I found that during my teaching assistantship I would be nervous talking in front of the class and interacting with students. In order to improve my confidence in my teaching I sought out support from the Centre of Teaching and enrolled in the Fundamentals of Teaching certificate program and began my journey into improving my teaching skills.
Upon attending my first few workshops I was amazed at how confident the facilitators were while standing up speaking at the front of the room. I was impressed with their communication skills and how at ease they were with presenting and I wondered to myself if this was something I was also capable of. A component of the fundamentals program is the completion of three microteaching sessions. A microteaching session consists of giving a short 15 min talk delivered to your peers, followed by immediate constructive feedback. Following my short talk I was pleasantly surprised by the positive feedback I received from my small audience. It turned out I actually was not terrible at pubic speaking and my peers found my presentation quite engaging. This validation of my efforts was remarkable and I immediately could sense a difference in my self-confidence. It felt as though a switch had been turned on in my brain, all of sudden I felt little more confident in my abilities at speaking in front a group of people. By the time I completed my third microteaching session I wasn’t fearful of public speaking and felt confident to present a talk. I also found that during my teaching assistantship I was feeling more comfortable talking in front of the class and providing instructions.
Overall, I found the fundamentals program to be a positive experience and I was encouraged to begin the next certificate program, Certificate in Undergraduate Teaching. Participants of this program are expected to complete two guest lectures within their discipline. In the past, the thought of giving a guest lecture to a 100 undergraduate students would have been terribly frightening, but I found that I was actually excited to complete this task. By the time I competed my two guest lectures I was very confident in my teaching abilities and was looking forward to the future of new teaching endeavours and speaking opportunities.
Confronting my fear of public speaking has allowed me to gain significant confidence in my communication skills. By exploring the teaching programs at the Centre for Teaching I have not only increased my knowledge of post-secondary education but also learned specific strategies that allow me to feel comfortable in front of a class and confident with presenting. The feedback I gained from these experiences was greatly constructive and allowed me to reflect on my performance and gain insight into my communication skills.
Based on my experiences at the Centre for Teaching of Excellence I learned three main things about confidence in the classroom:
1. Expand your Pedagogy Knowledge
The greater understanding you have of teaching and the learning environment will translate into demonstrated confidence in your knowledge of the classroom. Also, by exploring new teaching ideas and methods you will find you are inspired and this will give you a sense of courage in the classroom.
2. Push Yourself to New Heights
Even though there may be certain elements of the teaching environment that are new and may make you feel unsure of your abilities, be sure to push past those fears. By taking risks and pushing forward you will find over time these fears will disappear and your confidence will increase.
3. Explore Alternative Opportunities
Exploring new opportunities that fall outside your teaching assistantships or sessional teaching will allow you to expand your knowledge and ultimately increase your confidence in the classroom. Focusing on new challenges and opportunities, such as speaking at an academic conference, will allow you to build your self-confidence and gain valuable perspective that your fears can be conquered.