As an educator, I often think about who I am. That is, who I am compared to who my students are. As a well-educated, white, heterosexual, middle class woman, I have worried that my identity will somehow get me in trouble with my audience. In other words, because I belong to a number of majority groups, I have worried that I will not be taken seriously, that I will not be able to relate to my students, that someone will think I’m a fraud, or that I will be passed off as some outsider pushing condom use on at-risk populations.
These feelings became particularly troublesome during my practicum last fall. I was working at an organization whose focus was on education for at-risk youth, Latinos, and the HIV positive community. I was planning a late night event where I would be going into some of the gay bars to do sex education. During a meeting with my supervisor, she suggested that I should look the part, aka “queer it up”, before I went to the bars. At first I thought this was a great idea, remembering that sometimes education is like acting and I would be playing a role. The more I thought about it however, the more I became uncomfortable with the idea of faking me.
I brought my feelings of uncertainty to my practicum class and I was reminded by my professor that yes, as an educator sometimes you need to fake it til you make it. But that sentiment refers more to a person’s confidence and familiarity with content, not personality. After some further class discussion, I realized that “queering it up” would probably do more harm than good. Not only would I feel uncomfortable faking who I was/am, but I risked losing the respect of my audience. And without their respect, I sure as hell would not have their attention.
So, I decided to be authentic. Unapologetically me. Now, that doesn’t mean I went into the gay bars advertising all the ways that I represent majority culture. What it meant was that I felt like myself walking it. It meant dressing the way I like to dress. And it meant being the educator I want to be. When I walked into that bar, I was taken seriously. I didn’t stand out (in a bad way). I didn’t appear or act fake. I was approachable. And I got a great response.
As an educator, I know that I cannot expect to reach everyone. As a high school teacher, I was able to reach some teens but not others. As an outreach educator, some adults came to me while others shied away. After having this experience and really working on my authentic educator persona, I feel so much more confident in my abilities as an educator.
And since this is an online blog, I thought I’d share one more tidbit on authenticity in the online world, for those of you who do more blogging, tweeting, etc.