One of the choices teachers have to make is just how much information about themselves they want to share with students. It’s always a judgment call. For the past few years, I’ve been sharing the briefest of biographies during the first days of class and then pulling in stories from my life when I think they might be useful.
This year, however, I decided to try something different. I made a PowerPoint about my life.
Now, you may be thinking “How arrogant – why does this guy think the students care about his life?” That’s a valid question. The truth is, though, that students always ask about my life – they are curious, and they want to know if they can trust me. I thought that sharing a little more information about myself right away would help me build credibility with students, and if I got the tone right, would help me seem approachable, like someone they could relate to and trust.
I put up slides showing Wisconsin, where I grew up, and the University of Missouri, where I got my undergraduate degree. I talked about moving out to California and working as a journalist writing about science and health. I told them about volunteering at the San Francisco Sex Information hotline. It was there, answering calls from teens who were sometimes in real crisis (and sometimes just needed reliable information about their own bodies) that I first started thinking about becoming a teacher.
I also shared some details from my home life. I showed a picture of my 9-year-old son from our summer vacation, and talked a little bit about raising him. I showed a photo of my mother, and talked about how she’d worked as a college counselor her whole life.
I mentioned how excited I am that two women in my family are about to have babies, and showed photos of my sister and her husband, and my sister-in-law and her wife. At this point, a couple of students asked, with genuine curiosity, how a lesbian could get pregnant. I answered with a quick “Well, they used a sperm donor. We’ll be going over the details of pregnancy in a few weeks, and we can talk more about how it works then.”
I also showed some pictures from the 545-mile AIDS/Lifecycle bike ride I finished in June. I talked how I trained for months to get ready, how the students I taught last year helped with fundraising, and how good it felt to meet a personal athletic goal and raise money for such a good cause.
I was a little nervous to try this presentation out, but so far it seems like it was a successful strategy. I’m quickly developing rapport with the students, and before the week was out I’d already had two boys pull me aside to ask for help with personal issues. In my line of work, when a teen trusts you enough to ask for help, it’s a sign you’re doing something right.