The word "authenticity" at the center of a mind map.

Inside the Teaching Professor: Authenticity

by Martha Madigan

When I first started teaching, I tried to pattern myself after one of the colleagues from whom I learned the ropes. She was fastidious about organizing her syllabi and creating unambiguous lesson plans. Every handout started with outcomes and ended with closing thoughts and additional resources. Her record keeping was meticulous; without even thinking about it, she made certain that each “I” was dotted and “T” was crossed every single time. That is just who she is. In other words, definitely NOT me. Though I try to improve my organizational skills by doing all that I can on paper, I can’t pull it off in a classroom setting. I quickly learned that I would not be a teacher in her image. If something is a struggle for me, if it simply doesn’t come naturally, I will burn out trying to change.

That experience is part of the reason that I decided to go back to school to study education. As we all know well, a master’s degree does not teach us how to teach. In my studies, I learned useful lessons about curriculum building, creating assessments and writing outcomes, but the most memorable lesson for me was authenticity – learning to be who I am in class.

The article “Revisiting Teacher Authenticity” from the November issues of The Teaching Professor, describes the results of a study that breaks authenticity down into five areas based on student feedback: approachable, passionate, attentive, capable and knowledgeable. According to the researchers, these categories are the ways in which students define authenticity in their teachers.

While I was happy to see that teacher authenticity is still in the teaching and learning literature, these categories did not all sound like examples of authenticity to me. I would have placed capable and knowledgeable in a different category of good teaching. The authors concluded, however, that authenticity isn’t so much what a faculty member does; it’s that students can tell that the behavior comes from the heart. I suppose the old saying is still true: they truly don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.

The Teaching Professor includes summarized articles from various educational publications, as well as original articles from university and college instructors. If you are interested in viewing articles in this and/or other publications, contact Martha Madigan at or stop by the CTE, TLC 324. 

Reference: Weimer, Maryellen. “Revisiting Teacher Authenticity.” The Teaching Professor 31.9 (2017): 3. Print.

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