On the last day of classes I ran into one of my colleagues and we chatted about how things were winding down. He talked about the research presentations his students had done, and then he mentioned a particular student by name.
"You've had her before, right?"
Yes, I said, in three classes: two last semester and one this semester.
"I thought so. She's absorbed some of your teaching persona."
Now, it's one thing to know that one has a teaching persona and to be occasionally aware of dialing it up or down or modulating it for a given circumstance; it's another to think of it as something readily recognizable by others and available for appropriation.
But of course we've all constructed our teaching (and our paper-delivering and maybe even our networking-at-the-conference-bar) selves from somewhere, and usually from many somewheres: just as we pick up bits of knowledge and pedagogical tricks from our own teachers and colleagues, so do we pick up ways of embodying authority and collaboration or whatever else we do in the classroom. We choose the techniques and the modes that work with our own personalities and values, and we make them our own--but probably relatively few of us think we invented our teaching selves wholly from scratch.
As for me, I can't itemize all the parts of my teaching persona, and I'm sure I've been influenced by people I'd never suspect and in ways I don't recognize. But two of my college professors I can immediately point to as foundational.
Both of them were literature scholars, and both were young or young-seeming, though they were at different points in their careers and one was male and one was female. What they had in common, in addition to their youth, was a wacky, irreverent, and colloquial way of talking about the difficult texts they taught. I never doubted the ferocious intelligence of either, but they had a warm enthusiasm for the material that conveyed how much fun all this geeky arcana was to them. Both had a habit of paraphrasing or summarizing in hilarious shorthand ways (some of which I have preserved in notebooks or book margins to this day). And both dressed hyper-professionally, even extravagantly, perhaps to compensate for their youth and informality.
And, uh, that's me. I mean, I'm not either of those professors--not as a scholar and not as a personality. Probably no one who knew either of them and who knows me would recognize anything other than the vaguest of similarities. But I see it. The high-low approach that I associate with both professors is pretty central to my own self-presentation in the classroom, in part because it's what made me feel able to be a scholar, and to overcome my own insecurities and self-doubts. (The combination of dressing the fuck up and being relentlessly self-mocking means you can get away with a lot.)
I'm sure both those professors would be weirded out, were they to know how influential I feel their examples were for me; I'm a little weirded out to hear that one of my own students has apparently adopted some of the same mannerisms from me that I feel I learned from them. But I suppose it's a tribute, all around.
Do you have professors (or colleagues) whose personae you've adopted or adapted? And if so, what made the fit feel right?