Give authenticity a try

Feb 152010
Authors: Anne Marie Merline

Within the last year, my 10-year-old son asked me what “wearing your heart on your sleeve” meant when he picked the idiom out from a Hannah Montana song. I told him it meant that you show your feelings to people without trying to hide them. states that the phrase came from William Shakespeare’s “Othello” act 1 scene one 56-65: “But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve for daws to peck at.”

This Web site also states that when knights fought each other during the Middle Ages, they would dedicate their performance to a woman of the court –– usually someone they were in love with. To let their feelings be known to all, the knights pinned a handkerchief or a scarf belonging to the woman (a favor) onto their sleeves.

I also found that the expression of “wearing your heart on your sleeve” comes from a Valentine’s Day party tradition. Young women would write their names on slips of paper to be drawn by young men. A man would then wear a woman’s name on his sleeve to claim her as his valentine.

So, after this week of a day dedicated to expressing love, you ask what does this phrase have to do with teaching? Everything. This column, human at the whiteboard, is dedicated to expressing thoughts that go through my head about being the human at the whiteboard, since it is my opinion that many students do not think of the instructional staff of any educational institution exactly as human.

This week was a prime example of my comfort of “wearing my heart on my sleeve” in the classroom, which exemplifies how similar the thoughts of my students and I (sometimes) are.

So, these past couple of weeks have been hectic for me outside of the classroom. I put my home of 12 years on the market. I put a contract on another house a few blocks away. My cat has been to the vet just about every three days for the past two weeks with a smashed tail.

It seems that the least of my worries are my classes. Already we have had wonderful conversations, and some deep learning that is rare this early in the semester.

After many sleepless and anxious nights, I walked into class on Thursday and told my class that I didn’t have the wits to do one of the scheduled exercises. I just could not pull it together, although I have done this exercise several times before in previous years.

If I were a student, I would have the luxury of not going to class, or zoning out and just smiling at the instructor when his/her eyes met mine, but as the instructor, I cannot indulge in these “physically here but emotional not here” tactics. I need to be “on” at all times.

So I fessed up. We took on the easier exercise, and left the harder task for Tuesday’s class meeting. No harm done, really. We just switched around the order of the things I wanted to get done. It will fit in just as nicely in today’s class, if not better, than Thursday’s class.

If I had gone in to class and tried to direct the class in the more taxing exercise, I felt like I would not do it well, because of the state of my mind. I would have messed it up, and the students would have sensed my frustration and my lack of enthusiasm. We did a fun exercise, I felt 100 percent better, and my students had a great time. Don’t you love happy endings?

In my life, I try to be as authentic as I can. I wear the smiley faces, hearts and frowns all where they can be seen. If you ask me how I am, be prepared for the truth.

If I ask the same from you, I really do care, and I am looking for the truth, not just a pat answer. I left a big city and teach in a small program so that life could indeed be more authentic. Give it a try, every day of the year.

Anne Marie Merline is an instructor for the University Honors Program. Her column appears biweekly Tuesdays in the Collegian._ Letters and feedback can be sent to

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