Why am I so scared to be myself around my students?
I show off my personality just fine, but when it comes to my personal life, I tend to stay guarded.
I teach at the college level, and I love it.
I’ve been teaching college students since 2013. I teach mostly English composition classes, but occasionally have taught upper-division courses, too. It’s a total blast. I love educating students on how to write, and about the joys of film and literature.
And from day one, I’ve always been gifted at infusing the classroom with my oftentimes big and goofy personality. I crack jokes often. I make the students laugh.
I’ll often try to get the students to learn something through my use of humor, and I love it when they all share a collective a-ha moment when they consider something they might never have considered before about writing.
I get better as a teacher every semester, and I really do feel like I have the DNA to be a truly great teacher for many years to come.
But the one thing I’ve always struggled with over the years is revealing any details to students about my personal life.
For one thing, my personal life is just that. Personal. It has no room in the classroom. I’m there to teach and discuss important topics brought up in my lectures and in the readings. I’m there to give the students inspiration, and to share things I’ve learned during my own writing life that will help them in theirs.
Occasionally though, I’m compelled to share a story about my personal life — say, something to do with my male partner — that has something to do with the lesson of the day. Or I want to relate the struggle of a character in a recent short story we’re reading to the struggle I had growing up in the closet with a conservative father.
And then of course, at least once a semester, a student will ask me, usually out of the blue, if I’m married. They never ask if I have a wife or a husband. They never ask my sexual orientation.
The question almost always is… are you married?
What I want to tell this student is that I’m not married, but have been in a committed relationship with a man for five years.
But I don’t say that. I don’t even say part of that. I just say that no, I’m not married, and move on to the next part of the lesson as fast as I can.
Why am I so scared for my students to know I’m gay?
It’s not that it would bother me if students in any of my classes somehow found out I’m gay. And if a student asked me directly about my sexual orientation, I’m confident that I wouldn’t lie.
It’s just that I don’t think that part of my personal life belongs in the classroom. I don’t think it’s relevant to the success I and the students have during the course of the semester.
Still though, I wish I could be more honest when it comes to this side of me.
I wish I could be not just most of myself, but all of myself, in the classroom.
It’s 2019. Students today are different than many of the students I went to school with in the 1990s and early 2000s. I couldn’t imagine being an out gay professor in even the 1990s and being totally honest about my sexuality with my students. I would’ve been terrified that I’d make them uncomfortable.
Sadly, there’s still a little of that terror today. I don’t know the personal beliefs of my students. I don’t know how they feel about the LGBTQ community. And since that part of myself doesn’t really need to be in the classroom in the first place, I keep it hidden. I don’t talk about it. I pretend it’s just not there.
Part of me thinks that’s the smart thing to do. And another part of me thinks it’s keeping my whole self from being fully present in the classroom.
I’m hoping I’ll be able to evolve in this issue in the years to come.
Because I want to be even more of myself. I don’t want to feel like I’m hiding something that nobody should ever know. I’m proud to be gay. I’m proud to be a member of the LGBTQ community. There’s nothing I’m ashamed of.
So why am I always so scared to be honest about it? Why am I scared to be 100% myself?
It’s something I still need to work on. And it’s something I hope I have answers to in the years to come.
Because to be the best teacher you can, you need to feel confident about yourself in every way. You should feel comfortable in being honest about who you are, while also staying focused on the agenda of the day and not turning the class session into some kind of therapy session.
But you also need to be yourself, too, not just part of yourself. You don’t want to present a version of yourself that isn’t 100% authentic, that isn’t true to who you are. You don’t want to be afraid to share a part of yourself that stays hidden far too often than it should.
This is still a work-in-progress for me, but I know I’ll get there one day.
And I hope the same for you, too.
Brian Rowe is an author, teacher, book devotee, and film fanatic. He received his MFA in Creative Writing and MA in English from the University of Nevada, Reno, and his BA in Film Production from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He writes young adult and middle grade suspense novels, and is represented by Kortney Price of the Corvisiero Agency.