Sunday, August 21, 2011

Expert Status

This week, I'll begin teaching a new semester. It's my fourth semester of teaching. Twice I have taught a class on writing for PR/business -- this is my bailiwick, where I feel most comfortable speaking to the students as an expert. Public relations as a field may be changing a lot, but the skills for writing well rarely do. I am about to start my second round of teaching a class called "Strategic Communication for Social Change." I approach it as nonprofit and government PR, with a focus on social media.

Now, I do think I'm qualified to teach these courses. I have the master's credit (more than 18 hours, even if I'm not officially done). I have the life experience from working in internal marketing/PR, starting my own company for freelance communication and writing, and working as the PR/marketing director of a state botanical garden. I have a personal interest in social media and I have read up on how nonprofits are really benefiting from the (nearly) free way to promote their causes and form communities.

All that said, it is so hard not to feel like a poser. I have to wonder if other teachers or professionals feel this. I mean, how much experience and knowledge do you need to have before you feel fully confident that you are indeed the expert that students should learn from? I realize that many professors have egos so large it may never occur to them to be humble, but I'm sure there are others out there who have nightmares about students exposing them as just normal people who read a lot of books on a subject.

Now, a lot of the writing pedagogy I just studied for my qualifying exam is about how teachers should really serve more as facilitators than instructors. To quote Ann Berthoff, professors should avoid a "pedagogy of exhortation" (dumping information into students' heads) and instead embrace a "pedagogy of knowing" (teaching students how to learn). This makes me feel better. I love learning, and I think I share that passion. I know for sure that I don't know everything, so some of my material -- especially in the ever-changing world of social media -- I learn along with the students.

But still, I have to stand up behind that podium on Wednesday and exert the confidence of an expert. They have to believe I'm someone who can teach them something, and that I do indeed know what I'm talking about. It's a good thing I've had a lot of theatre training.


  1. Being an expert is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for being a good teacher. You don't have to be an expert to teach something. You just need to know more than your students. Believe me ... there are plenty of experts who are terrible, terrible teachers.