Volume 22, Number 2, Summer 2005

Book Review: Becoming an Authentic Teacher in Higher Education

Wendy Kraglund-Gauthier

St. Francis Xavier University

wkraglun@stfx.ca

Cranton, Patricia. Becoming an Authentic Teacher in Higher Education. Malabar FL: Kreiger, 2001. 123 pages. ISBN: 1-57524-119-6 (hardcover)

According to author Patricia Cranton, authenticity in teaching is based on effective communication and an informed understanding of the “Self – our basic nature, preferences, values, and the power of our past experiences” (vii). In Becoming an Authentic Teacher in Higher Education, Cranton discusses how important it is for teachers on a quest for a personal style of teaching to identify and critically examine their individual sense of Self as it relates to personality, teaching style, and interactions with others.

Cranton progresses through eight chapters organized to guide readers in their own processes of self-examination. In Chapter 1, Cranton explores the value of understanding the Self. Throughout Chapter 2, readers are motivated to analyze how past experiences affect current perceptions and values. Chapter 3 is dedicated to multiple definitions of a “good teacher”. It is important to note that Cranton recognizes that the label of a “good teacher” is socially constructed. Teaching styles and strategies that work for one individual in a classroom may not work for another because of differences in teacher’s personality, style of delivery, and the demographics of the student population. Also, what one student considers to be the characteristics of a good teacher may not match other students’ opinions. In Chapter 4, Cranton challenges teachers to incorporate more of themselves into their classrooms and interactions with others. I anticipate potential disagreement from teachers who construct barriers between themselves and their learners to maintain personal space. However, in my experience, students who can recognize a connection between themselves and their instructor are often more satisfied with their learning experiences. The challenge is to define and maintain appropriate boundaries.

Cranton perceives authenticity as “a genuine desire to progress, to improve, to grow, and to be more” (64) and in Chapter 5, four teachers in higher education candidly discuss their evolving teaching style. Each narrative resounds with the idea that a good teacher questions his or her teaching approach and the degree to which the methodology works from their students’ perspective. Again, this approach may be divisive when juxtaposed to the lofty pedestal of higher learning on which students place many professors. It can be disconcerting for students, especially those in the regular school system, to review their teachers openly.

It may surprise students from all levels of learning that their teachers often seek genuine feedback on their teaching. Chapter 6 deals with these issues as Cranton discusses the ways authentic teachers can forge and maintain better relationships with their students. To make this chapter even stronger, her suggestions could be supplemented with ways to encourage reluctant students to meet their teachers half-way. The process of developing teacher-student relationships depends on the context in which they occur, a subject addressed in Chapter 7. Degrees of authenticity depend on personal, institutional, and community constraints, and on the individual’s definitions of the roles of education in society (98).

In her final chapter, Cranton repeats Mezirow’s argument that “transformative learning occurs when we change a previously unquestioned habit of mind through critical reflection or critical self-reflection (101)”. Cranton provides a thorough discussion on the importance of on-going personal and professional development in transforming the Self. This chapter is especially valuable for pre-service or new teachers who should seize as many opportunities as possible to learn about different teaching approaches and methods.

As demonstrated through chapter activities and through the author’s thought-provoking commentary, past and current experiences influence a teacher’s relationships with students and peers, the style of delivery, and with the development of the Self. Critical reflections on experience add to “a continued deepening sense of who we are (103).” In order to appreciate fully the process of critical reflection, I encourage readers to take the time to complete the activities as they are presented in each chapter. Each exercise builds from the last, and by the end of the book the reader can gain an informed perspective on personal teaching style.

Cranton’s pragmatic approach to academic research is evident in this text, and her style of writing is casual and personal. The tone of the book reflects the author’s own style of teaching: quiet, unassuming, and gently prodding. Although the repetitiveness found in chapter introductions and conclusions is slightly distracting, it serves to mimic the reader’s process of thinking back and looking forward.

True to the nature of authenticity, Cranton describes her own reflections and evolution in her search for Self in teaching and life. The material encourages readers to delve deeper into their embedded psyches as teachers and group facilitators. However, the information presented is not just theoretical musing. Cranton has effectively supported her arguments with extensive references and examples. A teacher or facilitator at any level of educational instruction, not just at the post-secondary level, can benefit from the thought-provoking commentary, case studies, and personal activities.

Patricia Cranton is an independent educator and writer. Her teaching, research (including multiple SSHRC grants), and writing incorporates her interest in self-directed and transformative learning and faculty development. Based on her research and field observations, Cranton has published numerous books, chapters, and articles on effective instruction and transformative learning. Currently, Cranton is an Adjunct Professor at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia and since 2001, she has been an Adjunct Faculty member at the Teachers College, Columbia University and the University of New Brunswick.

Author description: Wendy Kraglund-Gauthier is an Academic Skills Instructor with the Writing Centre at Saint Francis Xavier University (StFX) in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. Ms. Kraglund-Gauthier is pursuing a Master of Adult Education degree, concentrating on defining Canadian writing centres’ program success. She has a Bachelor’s degree in English and Sociology and a Bachelor of Education degree from StFX, and is a certified Prior Learning Assessment Practitioner.

 

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