Chapter Overviews

Chapter 1: What Are the Eight Essential Questions Teachers Ask?

In fifteen years of working with teachers, I can think of very few who did not claim to have questions and concerns over pending responsibilities. Yet expressing these questions is often a daunting prospect. Teachers often feel alone in their concerns, not wanting to express them for fear of looking inadequate. If these teachers are dealing with educational or cultural differences as well (e.g., international teaching assistants) they are even less likely to want to express their concerns. Very few teachers know there is a framework (based on research) that validates these questions and concerns and predicts ways in which they will emerge over time. This chapter provides a heuristic for reflective practice, allowing teachers to understand their questions within their own context, role, and level of experience.  Additionally, this chapter discusses the teacher communication concerns framework and provides information about the kinds of concerns and questions teachers are likely to have, the ways in which they could change over time, and the ways in which they can manage these concerns inside and outside the classroom.


Chapter 2:  How Can I Establish Credibility?

Teachers often deal with questions about credibility in the classroom: Will students think I’m too young to know the material? Will students treat me with respect? Will I have a harder time gaining credibility as an international teacher or a teacher of color? Will students see through me and realize I don’t know everything about the topic? What if students ask if this is my first class I’ve taught? This chapter deals with these kinds of questions by exploring behaviors related to gaining and losing credibility in the classroom. Through this discussion, the chapter provides strategies for teachers that will help teachers own and exhibit credible teacher behaviors without over exaggerating their own background or level of competence.

Chapter 3:  How Can I Negotiate Power?

Teachers are, by the nature of their job, put in a power position over students. They are given the daunting task of creating rules, enforcing policies, and assigning grades. This position of power often leads to a number of questions—will the students walk all over me? Will they like me if I’m tough? Will students give me the same respect they give my male counterparts? What if students’ challenge my authority? Should I allow for exceptions to the rules? This chapter deals with these kinds of questions by discussing communicative behaviors that contribute to both productive and unproductive power relationships in the classroom. This discussion additionally explores how new teachers can be comfortable with the authority position that is provided them without using power in ways that detract from learning.

Chapter 4: How Can I Manage Communication Anxieties?

Teaching is a communicative skill that requires students to be in front of a classroom—sometimes filled with 30 students, other times filled with 100+ students. For many new teachers, the public speaking nature of teaching is daunting and anxiety producing. Additionally, many teachers are balancing multiple work/life roles and those roles tend to lead to anxiety that could emerge in the classroom. These issues lead to many questions: how can I deal with my nerves about speaking in front of groups? What if I’m not a great speaker? How can I not show my students my anxieties that are emerging in my personal life?  How can I help students manage communication anxieties? This chapter explores ways to manage the apprehension that accompanies teaching. This chapter also discusses ways that teachers can use their own apprehension as a teaching tool to help students understand the developmental nature of communication competence.

Chapter 5:  How Can I Engage Students?

I have never met a teacher who wants to be boring. Teachers I work with remember the boring teachers of the past and do not want to be like them. They worry about making the material come to life when the material is still very new to them. As they work through these concerns, they often wonder: how can I engage students? Will students find me boring? How can I motivate students to participate? What if students are accustomed to a different kind of learning environment than I am accustomed to? What if students don’t care? What if I don’t care? This chapter explores essentials of motivating students to participate in the communication classroom. This chapter also discusses ways to communicate with students who are not motivated to participate, engage, and interact with course content or other students.

Chapter 6:  How Can I Navigate Relational Dynamics?

Teachers balance multiple relational roles.  Some teachers are also students.  Others have been out of the classroom for years and have a professional background but serve in leadership roles in social context.  These roles bring teachers several advantages (e.g., being a student allows the ability empathize with their students, being a leader in a social context allows the ability to speak various experiences).  Yet these roles also bring to the fore conflicts that can be difficult to manage in the classroom. Teachers often try to balance the role of friend (which many want desperately to be) and evaluator (which many do not want to do). Other teachers try to balance being a students’ teacher and having contact with that student in a social context.  Teachers wonder: can I be a friend to my students? How should I deal with students who are too familiar with me –online and in person? Should I pretend to be distant from the students? What if I see students at a bar? Can I have students call me by my first name? This chapter addresses the relational dynamics teachers face, exploring ways to balance familiarity with professionalism so that new teachers can take advantage of their multiple roles to support the learning environment.

Chapter 7:  How Can I Acknowledge Difference?

Teachers often claim they want to create an atmosphere where students can disagree about particular content areas. Bu teachers also typically hold up values such as “safety” and “respect” as important to classroom learning, given the potentially diverse group of students who might enter the classroom. Teachers ask: how can I give everyone in the class a voice? Can I truly support a multicultural classroom from my particular standpoint? Do I share my opinions on issues when students say something that is borderline offensive? How can I foster a climate of respect—where all students feel safe to speak? How do I control my emotions if a student says something that is disrespectful? What if a discussion turns into a fight? This chapter addresses the complicated issues involved with supporting a diversity of voices in classroom interactions. Additionally this chapter explores the voice of the teacher—and how his/her positioning in the classroom contributes to the learning environment.

Chapter 8:  How Can I Provide Effective Feedback?

It is rare for teachers to be taught about dealing with the communicative elements that surround grading. Yet grading is a key (if not the key) responsibility of the teacher. Whether they are grading papers, presentations, or exams; teachers often struggle with being fair, being sensitive, and being accurate as an evaluator. They often ask: how can I be fair and supportive? What if I’m unsure as a grader? How can I give feedback that is honest without being harsh? What if I’m too nice as a grader, will they lose respect for me? This chapter will address the communicative aspects of evaluating students work—exploring the ways in which grading is a relational event that invokes a number of important face issues. This chapter will also discuss ways teachers can approach the evaluative process authentically; balancing useful, constructive feedback with valid praise.

Chapter 9:  How Can I Make a Difference?

One of the great joys of working with teachers is experiencing the idealism that brings them to the teaching space. Teachers—whether they are teaching because they want to stay in academia or whether they are teaching because it is a job—often walk into their first classrooms hoping to make a difference. This idealism is laudable, yet also generates some concerns and questions. Teachers wonder: how can I have an impact on students? What if I damage them (this is often a jokingly stated concern but the seed of the concern is real)? How can I make students remember me? How can I do justice to being a teacher? These broader questions speak to the importance of the teaching space, and yet often leave teachers feeling a weight of responsibility on their shoulders. This chapter discusses broader goals of teaching communication and explores theorists that offer insight into why teaching matters (John Dewey, Parker Palmer, bell hooks, and Paulo Freire). This chapter also provides several reflective practice exercises intended to help teachers explore their own personal teaching philosophy and how they want to make a difference.