Signals and Teaching (and More)

Teaching is about reading, and sending, social signals. In some subjects, that's more problematic than in others. Math or science topics would probably be a good fit for my personality. But, as readers know, I took a wrong turn in my studies and ended up in the humanities.

It is one thing to love the media and arts, and I do, but another to teach in them. I enjoy subjects that aren't easily taught -- subjects without clear answers. Granted, I also love science and probably should have pursued STEM fields professionally while keeping the arts my hobbies.

Teaching business communications, I feel like a nonnative speaker. There is always room to improve, at least. I theorize that my struggles do help me teach. That belief helps me get through the semesters.

Reading my teaching evaluations, it strikes me how often students experience something quite different from what I hoped to convey. They miss the humor I imagine is obvious, or hear humor when none is intended. They confuse my being serious with anger. My attempts to reach out to some groups outside my experiences are perceived as favoritism.

Teaching is safest when I lecture. But, that's also not the most effective pedagogy for communication courses. Trying to convey the signals others take for granted, I apparently seem insincere -- even though I try to communicate what I feel.

I assume people mean what they say. Of course, we know that isn't the case, but it is my starting point. In the end, I struggle at work and in social settings because I miss signals. The words people speak and write don't tell us half the story behind the words.

There is science behind communication. Too bad that science hasn't allowed me to master teaching. Watching body language, listening to tone, and detecting what signals I can spot are conscious acts, requiring a significant amount of energy. Is someone moving towards me or away? Is the stance one of a friend or a foe? In fractions of a second, most people judge the intentions of a speaker. I take just a little longer to process the signals, and others notice.

It isn't that people know I am "offset" or "lag" by a few milliseconds. They just "feel" my conversation isn't smooth. It isn't comfortable, for whatever reason. Small delays shouldn't matter, but they do.

And, then there are the instances when I misread someone. Tone indicating sarcasm or facetious intent is missed, or I assume someone is being sarcastic when that's not the case.

I do need to work on the signals I transmit, as much as I need to work on receiving and interpreting the signals from others.


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