Inclusive Pedagogy

Inclusive pedagogy, is a good approach as it might give students equal chance to learn, to succeed and to aspire to better future. In environment where cultural identities are determinant factors in many aspects of life, it is very helpful to integrate technics and approaches that facilitate collaboration and promote better performances. However, to me, promoting inclusivity in an academic level is something good but should have not been a subject of discussion or extra work for educators and leaners. These kinds of issues should be handled at lower levels where children are more apt to learn and keep lessons forever. If that was the case, the kinds of crises (derogatory words, racial issues…) that are making people now more willing to integrate concepts such diversity and inclusion would not need to take place in higher education. Likewise, listing all the diminishing worlds, or narrating all the nasty past to children of color or from a minority group that would frustrate them forever or even limits their performance is a waste of time. Better make them believe in themselves, proud of who they are and proud of their values can help them navigate through the obvious hurdles that they will have to face in life.  Children, when they are born, they are innocent and kind human beings. To my view those who change (stay good, become bad, weak, strong not racists, inclusive, bias, complex…) when they become adult do so because of the education, the information they have received at an early age. Universities to me are places where peoples should focus on scientific matters that can make the world a better place not concepts that to me come with another set of problems.

What is that set of problems?

  1. The diminishing aspect. The fact of willing to make someone fell that he is part of the group to me is already diminishing. That is why it was painful for me to go through some the readings of this prompt.
  2. More work for teachers. Creating an environment that will need to be entertained because if one day things do not work well that will lead to more worrying situations. So as an instructor you have to have an opened eye and be ready to intervene in case of problems. Isn`t this an exhausting task?
  3. We are all coming from different environments, have different backgrounds and different cultural identities. Concepts that are welcomed by people who have experienced racism or discrimination might be disturbing see shocking for students from a different horizon. Personally, I am not comfortable with those words neither with attending event organized for such purposes as to me it more makes the person feels different than making him feel included. Derogatory words, stereotypes and racist expression become a problem when you know what they mean. I remember that having read some books that talk about issues for the purpose of some courses had made me learn more about what black, natives Americans, Hispanics, etc have experienced. But that also made me be aware of things that I would not care about earlier.

I think what would better help students to learn in an environment while respecting one another will more come from our authenticity, our passion and desire to give the best of us. To me, it would be more valuable to integrate how the university wants diversity and inclusion to be handled and the probable consequences if an individual does not follow the rule than willing to control some adults.

Building an Inclusive Learning Environment

Your assumptions are your windows on the World. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”― Isaac Asimov

This week we are talking about Diversity and Inclusion in the context of Pedagogy. In this 21st century world, we are increasingly exposed to different culture and people from different background. Like the prompt said, the learning environment is getting increasingly complex and diverse with everyone bringing some visible as well as invisible identities. There is no straightforward way to define Diversity. As a Graduate student and having experience doing multi-disciplinary research, when I think about diversity, there has always been a distinction between  Intellectual and Nonintellectual diversity. Even though, these two are inherently related when it comes to the growth and development in an academic environment.

Intellectual Diversity: It is similar to the concept of “Diversity of expertise” and “Informational diversity” mentioned in Dr. Katherine W. Phillips article where individuals/scholars working in different disciplines collaborating, bringing in and integrating their specific disciplinary knowledge and perspective to improve upon the existing ideas. Inclusion of this kind of diversity enhances innovation and creativity.

Nonintellectual or Identity-based Diversity: Non-intellectual diversity mostly arise from the state of being diverse across human identity such as race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity and expression, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, religion etc. I do not know if there is any evidence-based correlation between these kinds of diversity in enhancing creativity or innovation. However, an inclusive environment would help  make everyone feel welcome rather than feeling like “an ugly duckling”, even with all the differences and heterogeneity that are brought along. Inclusion of this kind of diversity ensures an atmosphere where someone can truly be themselves to contribute towards innovation and creativity.

In  other words, Productive contribution from the students in academia or in a classroom settings can be ensured when we acknowledge, accept and celebrate every form of diversity. An important aspect of human nature is that the validity and acknowledgement from the surroundings helps a person to find a sense of belonging and vitality; which can further help him to flourish and be more productive.  There are a realms of study tell us that diversity is “good” for innovation and creativity. Acknowledging the fact that there will always be debate regarding the external and internal validity of studies (usually what I do being someone studying correlation and causality in policy making), as a future educator, I want to ensure an environment where all of my students feel safe and supported to be themselves and have access to a learning environment that produces and disseminate knowledge which is open to different viewpoints.

Is that going to be easy? Probably not! Finding a way to ensure inclusion in a diverse academic setting can often be challenging.  It would take a lot of patience and dedication from the educators to experiment and then cultivate a practice with strategies of what might work and what might not work. Then it can be having a set of tools and using them when it might be useful. Personally, I know that I have certain prejudices or biases that often cloud up my judgement or thought process. Being a human, we are vulnerable to our biases and assumptions. There are no obvious remedy to that. However, I try to be mindful in any (to be honest in most of the) situation and to take a pause to ask myself the following question and reevaluate my stance:

What are my values? What perspective do I have in this situation?

Do I have any assumptions or inherent bias that has been affecting my judgment?

How would I feel being similarly judged by someone ?

Is there a way I can be more understanding? How can I have a better approach to handle the situation?

Being an international student, with obvious language barrier and being an awfully introverted person, I can understand the challenges, struggles and reservations we bring along. Often time, it is hard for student like me, to speak up, to raise voices, even engage in any discussion. One thing, that has always worked for me, is to be (or “try” to be ) open with my professors about my struggles as well as my expectations. As an educator, my goal is to developing a greater sensibility in understanding complex issues raised due to diversity. That warrants the importance of reminding myself to scrub of the windows of my existing assumptions and to maintain a clear perspective. Only then, I can welcome my students in a safe and nurturing space, help them find a belonging and grow in their unique potential.

 

Avoiding Inclusive Education at the Expense of Marginalized Groups: The Educator’s Role in Brave Spaces

Content warning: This blog post details my some of experiences as a gay educator and includes slurs and microaggression I’ve experienced.

Working in student affairs, I have attended many trainings around diversity and inclusion.  With content consistent among many presentations, I’m always excited to be introduced to a tool I’ve never used, a way of explaining a concept that students will understand, or a new nugget of information.  While I may not remember every detail of each training, an indicator of a good training is the one or two main takeaways that stick with me.

Last year, I listened to a speaker (whose name I cannot recall) and remembered her mentioning that education on diversity always comes at the expense of someone, and that it should be our goal to minimize that expense for those in marginalized groups.  At the end of the session, one of my peers asked whether this education could come about at no one’s expense, and the presenter responded with a firm “no.”  Though it was a bitter pill to swallow and difficult to process, the more I reflected, the more I realized it held true in my own experience as a gay man on the path to becoming an educator:

When I first moved into my college residence hall and was still in the closet, I watched the residents on my floor constantly insult my straight suitemate by calling him gay.  I didn’t say anything.

When I came out to a religious friend in a study group, she told me I didn’t have to live that way and said she’d pray for me.  We never discussed that interaction again.

When I came out publicly on Facebook, some people I called friends just seemed to fade away.  I let them.

During my first round of training as an RA, the prompt I was assigned in a role play scenario said that I had recently broken up with my significant other.  I specified boyfriend, but I awkwardly corrected my partner who kept saying girlfriend instead.

When a resident found out I was gay, it became a game of twenty questions.  Some of the questions assumed I was an expert on all things LGBTQ+, and others were very personal.

Through the a wall, I overheard one of my residents say his RA was a faggot.  I never addressed that.

When I off-handedly came out to another resident after he had said something to the effect of “no homo,” he became wide-eyed and backed away.  The follow-up was only slightly productive.

That was all during my first two years of college, and though I was wildly unprepared to educate others, I became a part of that process simply by being gay.  However, as time went on, things changed.  The microaggressions and slurs didn’t stop and if anything, I was asked more questions, but I learned more, discovered some language to use, developed more confidence in my queer identity, and got a lot more “practice.”  At 18 or 19, I was not ready to have those conversations, so I ignored opportunities to have them or gave them a go, unprepared as I was. However, at 23, as difficult as those conversations still can be, I’d rather engage in them than allow that education to happen at the expense of someone who is not ready.

That said, I think it naïve in concept and unhelpful in practice to think that we could prevent all marginalized learners from having experiences where they must educate others about their identities.  Students have experiences away from formal learning environments where these issues are bound to arise, and rising to meet the challenge of educating others is a developmental opportunity I would not want to remove entirely.  However, I think we can be allies by creating a brave space to contribute to a learning environment that is suitable for all and modeling interaction in that brave space.

Before one can create a brave space or model bravery, knowledge of different forms of power and privilege is required.  In order to educate about groups different than one’s self, one must have knowledge of those groups, and that learning is an intentional process.  By simply being gay, I learned about issues that affect gay people.  However, I realized that I didn’t know what it was like to be a woman, be transgender, live as a racial or ethnic minority, have low socioeconomic status, or live with a disability.  To learn about those experiences was important, but it was also vital to consider how to do this learning with minimal expense to those who are vulnerable.  I found that a combination of internet research and dialogue with advocates has been helpful.  Without this knowledge, one cannot engage in an informed conversation.

Using that knowledge, one can then challenge non-inclusive practices and model dialogue in a brave space.  Even in discussion of topics unrelated to inclusivity, it seems important to have these conversations as they naturally arise.  Whether these conversations are planned (or at least easily anticipated) in a history, literature, or political science course, or unexpected when a controversial comment is made in a math class, it is important to use these opportunities to model respect, challenging ideas without attacking others, agreeing to disagree, and not taking things personally (concepts from the work on brave spaces of Arao and Clemens).  In the moment, this might be standing up for the marginalized groups who otherwise might not have a voice, but it also models these skills for students so that they may feel more prepared to engage in dialogue outside of the classroom.

Lastly, I think it’s key to never let expertise of inclusive practices hinder us from interacting with learners as humans.  A mentor of mine once said that it was strange for her to learn and grow while her students were perpetually 18 or 19.  I find this important to remember when working with difficult topics around inclusivity.  While I’ve learned and grown, able to throw around words like “microaggression” and “intersectionality” and willing to show more vulnerability with greater confidence in my own identities, I still work with young people who do not have those experiences for the most part.  Whether students are part of the majority group – totally new to the nuances of diversity and inclusion – or part of the minoritized group and requiring support when faced with structures of power and privilege, they all are facing a difficult issue.  A true willingness to engage in dialogue and learn with and from these people will go farther than a formulaic approach to inclusion.  The process is undoubtedly difficult, but intentionality on our part can make the process easier for those who are most vulnerable.

Inclusive Pedagogy as a Way of Life

Diversity and inclusivity constitute a burning issue in higher education. Several research studies have shown the many benefits that diversity brings in many different situations. It has also been shown that embracing diversity, beneficial as it is, may not always be a natural thing to do as there is always a ‘hidden brain’ that functions on our individual implicit biases to inform decision-making processes of our unconscious persons, potentially, against the tenets of inclusivity. Discourse on ways of overcoming these implicit biases to make way for more inclusive pedagogical environments has abounded. In the thick of this discourse, a number of questions come to the fore: How long has it been known that inclusivity is beneficial? Whose duty is it to champion inclusivity? Is it good enough if one temporarily suspends their biases for the sake of creating a more inclusive pedagogical environment and then return to their original self afterwards? What can be done to ensure that inclusive pedagogy is more sustainable?

It would appear that knowledge on the benefits of diversity and inclusivity has been around for a long time. However, to this very day, embracing diversity remains a challenge not only in higher education institutions, but also in many others. Others have argued that very little is being done to create inclusive pedagogical environments as the spectrum of diversity continues to grow and its bands remain only partially understood. In spite of the many years that it has been known that inclusivity is beneficial, why is it still unnatural for others to embrace diversity? Perhaps in order to gain insight into this question, we need to figure out whose duty it is to champion inclusive pedagogy.

This far, it has largely been suggested that the teacher plays a primal role in ensuring that an inclusive pedagogical environment prevails. This approach seems to ignore the multidimensionality of the issue at hand. As has already been pointed out by others, most of the implicit biases that plague one’s unconscious decision-making processes develop outside of the classroom. If the sources of these biases are not adequately addressed, attempts at creating an inclusive pedagogical environment will only succeed in so far as what results portrays an isolated momentary experience that is not only detached from reality, but that is also superficial and vulnerable to catastrophic failure at any time. The classroom and the world that exists beyond it must be understood as a totality so that the responsibility of creating inclusive pedagogical environments is shared by teachers, learners, parents and the general public.

In an effort to create inclusive pedagogical environments, there are certain things that one may need to do. This approach, essentially, enables one to temporarily suspend their biases just so that they can be seen to be accommodative of diversity and then, once the need is over, they revert back to their original self. Is this good enough an approach? Probably not as it comes through as just being a convenient show off. Unfortunately, it would be very hard to tell if one is genuinely committed to diversity or they are just trying to side with the convenient truth at any given moment.

When all is said and done, we must all aspire for inclusive pedagogical environments that are sustainable. There are many things that might be done in order for this to happen one of which might be the exploration of the idea that the classroom and the world beyond it are a totality and that the duty of ensuring the prevalence of sustainable pedagogical environments belongs to not only the teachers, but us all. Inclusive pedagogy must become a way of life.

 

 

On Fostering Inclusive, Change-Inducing Conversations

After plunging into the (deep) rabbit-hole abyss of article-clicking this week, I found myself continuously returning to two specific quotes.  

First, there’s the statement from Mahzarin Banaji’s talk in which, in one of her opening lines, she says:

“I don’t want people to not learn from guilt and not learn from shame. I think those are powerful motives. They have made us, in large part, the more civilized people we are. But I do believe that, in our culture and in many cultures, we are at a point where our conscious minds are so ahead of our less conscious minds. We must recognize that, and yet, ask people the same question, “Are you the good person you yourself want to be?” And the answer to that is no, you’re not. That’s just a fact. We need to deal with that if we want to be on the path of self-improvement.”

Banaji’s sentiment braids well with a resonating message Statesman Edmund Burke once delivered—a line Emma Watson quoted in her UN speech about gender equality, which states: “All that is needed for the forces of evil to triumph is for good men and women to do nothing.”

I consider this sentiment often when teaching, especially when working with students who approach writing with the desire to effect change.

“Why write solely to please an audience who already agrees with you?” I asked my composition students this past Friday. “Whose perspectives are you, then, changing? Who else are you seeking to understand, save for the homogenized group with whom you already stand?”

In other words: What’s the point of speaking if we’re not listening? What’s the point of listening if we’re only listening to have our views reinforced?

All this said, I work to foster discussions with my students on how other writers do/don’t pull off the skill of sympathy/empathy in their writing. And while rhetorical analysis discussions often go over quite well, there are some sensitive topics that every semester, without fail, have proven debilitating for my opinionated, otherwise thoroughly chatty students to discuss—particularly race, religion and gender.

Within these past two weeks, for example, we’ve broken down the rhetoric of the new Nike commercial with Colin Kaepernick, as well as an article that discusses changing views of feminism and the notion of “post-feminism.” And although, with these two topics, I was simply asking students to break down the rhetoric of other writers’ writing, they quieted with what I assume to be the fear of them not wanting to stir the pot, of them not feeling confident in discussing their opinions about the issues these works were seeking to address.

“All that is needed for the forces of evil to triumph is for good men and women to do nothing.” 

How do I guide my students to do something?

Bearing this in mind, I found the Arao and Clemens “From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces” piece genuinely helpful, as the article offers advice on how to approach diversity and social justice learning activities—primarily through establishing ground rules, through, as Banaji argues, recognizing and dealing with the fact that we are not yet the perfectly “good” people we want to be as means for self-improvement; through, as Burke says, doing something.

As inferred from their title, Arao and Clemens propose revising language from the notion of the “safe space” to that of the “brave space” in order “to help students better understand—and rise to—the challenges of genuine dialogue on diversity and social justice issues.” Why the change in title? Because, with respect to safe spaces, Arao and Clemens report that they have found “with increasing regularity that participants invoke in protest the common ground rules associated with the idea of safe space when the dialogue moves from polite to proactive”; when the authors asked students about their rationales for their actions, the common theme of their responses was this: “a conflation of safety with comfort.” In proposing a stronger methodology for creating a space in which students can most productively discuss, the authors ask “What is meant by the concept of safety, and how does that change based on the identities in the room?”

In order to support learning that supports participants in authentic engagement, Arao and Clemens argue, “educators must take care to balance contradiction to a student’s current way of thinking with positive encouragement to explore new ways of thinking,” and, most interestingly,  that “authentic learning about social justice often requires the very qualities of risk, difficulty, and controversy that are defined as incompatible with safety,” and that “the language of safety may actually encourage entrenchment in privilege.”

So, how exactly do we, as educators, go about encouraging students arriving with diverse ranges of privilege and from diverse backgrounds, in general, to engage in a high-risk activity such as discussion of sensitive topics?

Arao and Clemens propose this:

  • Build conditions in which agent group members understand and expect from the outset that challenge is forthcoming
  • Use “brave space” as the alternative term
  • Have discussions about the meaning of “safe” vs. “brave” spaces with students prior to engaging in difficult conversations (“Creating this space for the participants to make their own meaning of brave space,” Arao and Clemens found, “in addition to sharing our own beliefs as facilitators, can lead to rich learning in alignment with our justice-related objectives.”)
  • Collectively establish ground rules, guiding students toward rules that advance productive discussions (examples include “Controversy with civility,” “Own your intentions and your impact,” and detailed illustrations of the meaning of “Respect” and “No attacks”)

When I taught creative writing through Duke University’s Talent Identification Program this summer, I established ground rules on day one…and this, I now believe, was because I had apparently expected my middle schoolers to be different from my undergraduate students; I presumed their maturity levels warranted a greater need to establish classroom expectations. From the first day, we discussed what a healthy environment looked like, penned rules on a giant piece of paper, taped the piece to the wall as a reminder to be revisited for the entire term, and signed the sheet—a contract, of sorts.

I still stand by the notion that my twelve-year-olds are different from my nineteen-year-olds with respect to maturity, but why would I believe that nineteen-year-olds—that adults of all ages, in general—don’t need to have discussions regarding how to best conduct ourselves in sensitive discussions? Clearly, there’s not an age when humans reach a proficiency in communication skills, in sensitivity training, in productive, change-inducing conversation. If there were, the world, I’d imagine, would look quite different. This is something we should consider for all students—for all communicating bodies, in general: productive conversations about how to best have productive conversations.

Week 7: “Always the tone of surprise.”

“The privilege of being able to go to a library and find a book that has a character on the cover that looks like you. A book that has a story that is about you or as simple as watching a commercial and finding a product to shampoo your hair. To learn about that from watching TV, which is not an experience that I have. I have to take other measures to find out about different products for my hair, as a black woman. I don’t have the privilege of just watching network TV and just seeing a commercial that is talking about people like me, who have hair like me.”

–Sonja Cherry-Paul: Dismantling Racism in Education

I’ve had a lot to think about lately, but I’ll focus on this week’s topic. The readings have been primarily about where diversity fits in higher education and how to navigate the inevitable minefield that is created when a diverse group of people come together to figure out what it means for them and their institution. However, my intuitive response to the readings and the word “diversity” is a visceral, gut-wrenching realization–a reminder, really–of my difference, my Otherness. Being a young woman of color in higher education is both an incredible opportunity to affect change from within and a daily dose of prejudice from all sides: because I am young, female, and nonwhite, I contend with three different forms of bias at a minimum. Because of my background, I had to grow up quickly to grasp the implications of my embodied experience (e.g., a nonwhite, female body moving through primarily white, male spaces) and every possible snap judgement that could be made about me as a result. For as long as I have been able to read the news, I have understood that being who I am actively works against my safety, my bodily autonomy, my freedom, and my peace of mind, all of which are basic human rights, rights that are not guaranteed to me.

But that’s what happens when bias is at its worst. In my everyday life, bias is more subtle than potentially fatal police encounters and gender-based violence. Whenever I think of how stereotypes have affected me in my daily life, I can’t help but remember the first installment of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, in which Hermione is shocked–SHOCKED!–that Ron is capable of stepping up to the plate to do something brilliant like save the life of Nymphadora Tonks (one of the best characters in the entire series, if I say so myself). It happens less often now that I’m older and have the look of someone who spends more time in the library than anywhere else, but it still happens: I’m in a place that People Like Me™ don’t stereotypically go or I’m dong something that “we don’t do” or that’s “for [insert literally any other demographic here] people” (and I’m usually the Only One there anyway, which always raises a few eyebrows), and someone feels the need to comment on it.

Having read the articles on Difficult Discussions and what to do if a subject gets “too hot” for one or more parties in the class, I have real concerns about what could happen in such a scenario, precisely because of my background and the potential for things to become…hairy. I have real concerns about how to navigate a tricky subject that may be “too hot” for me. I have real concerns full stop.

To look at these conversations as hard conversations is one thing, but to look at these conversations that are going to solidify friendships, to look at these conversations that are going to strengthen professional bonds, to look at these conversations and say these are conversations that are going to sharpen my abilities to teach kids, I think that’s the win.

–Cornelius Minor: Dismantling Racism in Education

chronically ch(ill) – diversity as a spoonie

FUN FACT: you cannot be inclusive if you’re ignoring the invisible

I think about inclusivity often, but maybe not in the way that people would assume. Visually, I appear to be a completely healthy, happy, active person with a lot of privileges, but I have a secret struggle that I will touch on in a bit- I’m a spoonie. Haven’t heard of it? Don’t worry, we’ll get to that- but first, let’s cover the basics of the inclusivity discussion.

Diversity and Inclusion is important to me for many reasons- as an empath, I tend to feel what others are feeling, so a passion for social justice was inevitable. As a woman, I am passionate about advocating for my rights and equality in the workplace. As an individual in an interracial relationship, I have had conversations about how my children will have a different life growing up than I did, simply because of the fact that they will be biracial.  As future professors, we need to address topics related to diversity head on with compassion and the ability to step back and listen to those with different experiences. How do we address white privilege? How can we be inclusive to nontraditional students? How can we better include international students? Students from different socioeconomic backgrounds? Students who are non-binary? We have spoken before about intersectionality before, but while race, gender, and sexuality seem to be at the forefront of this discussion, I think inclusivity ranges far beyond these topics.

Let me ask you a question:
How often do you think about being able bodied?

“The Spoon Theory” was created by a woman named Christine Miserandino in an attempt to help explain to an able-bodied person what it’s like to live with a chronic illness. Imagine that every day, you wake up with an unlimited amount of spoons. Throughout the day, you use these spoonfuls of energy to do various tasks, and the next day you wake up with the same unlimited amount. People with chronic illness have a limited number of spoons, so they have to decide how they will spend those spoons every day, and what goes on the cutting board. Here is a little graphic to help explain to my visual learners!

I am an individual with an invisible chronic illness. I have a form of dysautonomia, an autonomic nervous system disorder that causes my heart rate to skyrocket and my blood pressure to plummet in response to triggers. These triggers range from severe pain, to stress, to simply standing up too fast- my heart starts pounding and my face turns white and WOOPS I am unconscious on the floor, sometimes with some very unattractive muscle contractions. I deal with severe migraines, chronic fatigue, disordered sleep, joint pain, gastrointestinal problems, brain fog, anxiety, and temporomandibular joint dysfunction all on a daily basis.  Basically, the more stressed I get, the sicker I become, and nobody can tell.My cabinet at home looks like a pharmacy. Living with an invisible illness brings with it its own set of issues (if you’re interested, NPR did a great write up about this).

In the classroom, I have to navigate lectures while dealing with fatigue and having to elevate my legs to keep conscious. If you just looked at me, you’d never know that I am not completely able bodied, which has led to professors thinking I’m just lazy or being difficult. Dysautonomia International even has a guide on classroom accommodations for individuals with this disorder. However, when I’ve told professors in the past, I am often met with skepticism, concern, and even exasperation. This past week, in fact, I had a professor tell me that having me in class on a really bad pain day is distracting, because “sometimes you put your head down on the desk because of the pain”. Also, sometimes chronic illness can ebb and flow, with some weeks much better than others. Then, you deal with the “so you’re all better now?” comments. Accommodating me, it seems, is more of a headache than the chronic migraines that keep me in bed for two days with a bad of frozen veggies on my head!

my constant dilemma

In considering inclusive pedagogy, I think we need to start inviting individuals with chronic illness and invisible illness into the conversation. Being inclusive means being accommodating, and understanding, and not dismissive toward people who are facing a private struggle. Just because you can’t see the pain and discomfort I am in, does not mean that it’s not there and making my educational journey more difficult. Let’s start having these uncomfortable conversations about racism, sexism, and ablism. It is only through open, honest communication that we can learn from one another and develop a more intersectional, diverse classroom where everyone has the same access.

Departmental support makes all the difference for new teachers

I identified with a lot of what Sarah Deel discussed in her post. I will be a first time teacher next semester, so I am asking and attempting to answer many of the same questions she did; however, unlike Sarah, I have the full support and mentorship of my department during this process. I am also coming from the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, so the emphasis on teaching is slightly greater than in other colleges. Like Sarah, though, I came from a  smaller liberal arts school where teaching was the forefront for most faculty, so the adjustment from that school to Tech has been odd for me. I am grateful for my “academic upbringing” in the liberal arts, as teaching has always been a bigger passion than research for me and because of the school I came from, I am confident in sharing that with faculty in my department.

I have described it before, but after the readings for this week, I am incredibly grateful for my department’s apprenticeship program for GTAs. This semester, I am attending all the classes of, do the grading for and will give two lectures in a section of the course I will teach next semester. I meet with my apprenticeship supervisor each week to process things that happened in the class (things my supervisor felt worked and areas where they felt they could improve)  and to discuss any of my upcoming responsibilities. As I prepare my first guest lecture (in two weeks!) my supervisor shared with me resources they use for content as well as more general teaching resources that I will use in my presentation. I will get feedback from my thesis advisor, my apprenticeship supervisor and another graduate student in my department from one or both of my guest lectures, that can not only go into a teaching portfolio, but will also be helpful in developing my course for the spring.

I had previously been a TA for a professor who is nearing retirement and while they were absolutely great to me, they were less understanding or sympathetic to undergraduate students and their struggles. My apprenticeship mentor’s teaching philosophy is all about increasing and creating opportunities for learning whenever they can. By doing grading for these different professors and their individual standards for accepting student work, I’ve found where my boundaries will be with students. As a student teacher, especially, and maybe during my first few years as a full-on faculty member, I will have more strict guidelines than my mentorship supervisor and will be more flexible than my previous TA supervisor. As I get further into my career and have more time devoted to teaching rather than other bureaucratic responsibilities, these policies may change over time.

Without this apprenticeship program and other opportunities afforded to me by my department, I imagine that I would be much less sure of myself as a future teacher and would spend a significant amount of time agonizing over the questions Sarah asked herself. After reading about her experiences, my appreciation for my department and the faculty’s willingness to share their experiences and resources in teaching has increased ten-fold and I know I have an invaluable network of support.

Trying to Define My Teaching Self

This week’s readings triggered another visit to an old question that keeps haunting me: What kind of professor do I want to be?

Let’s be clear: I’m in Computer Science. Any classes I would teach will be heavily male-dominated, and may very likely consist of only men. And I look 18. Plus, teaching Computer Science concepts is a complex challenge alone, even without considering how to make it “fun.”

Here’s what I really mean: I might be one of the few– if not the only– women in the room; I worry about the level of respect and how seriously my students (particularly male students) will take me. This is only worsened by the fact that I look about their age. And trying to be a “fun” or “cool” teacher with such complicated, dense course material is already a challenge.

When I taught this past summer, these issues were front and center for me. I handled the concerns regarding my apparent age by trying to dress very professionally– more professionally than I have for any previous job. To address the difference in gender, I always tried to make sure that any attempts for “fun” or “coolness” were carefully executed; the last thing I needed was for students to take things the wrong way or otherwise give the impression that students could show me less respect than they would for their male professors.

That last part– being “fun”– was particularly difficult for me. Naturally, I’m someone who loves fun. I’m always looking for ways to put a twist on things or spice things up, just to make it different or interesting. A lot of that, however, revolves around my tendency to “give people shit.” Usually in silly ways. For example:

Friend (referring to some random thing): This is dumb.

Me: Well, maybe you’re dumb.

Friend: Well, maybe your face is dumb.

Me: Well, maybe your mom is dumb!

Silly? Yes. Stupid? Absolutely. Fun? Maybe. It at least breaks any monotony and opens the opportunity for more fun. But in a classroom setting, how would these kids of quips be received? I mean, I think calling students dumb, even in jokes, is probably not a good idea. But other types of quips along these lines? Maybe they’re ok, depending on the student. Yet my hesitancy revolves around 2 big concerns:

  1. Will students continue to take me seriously if I start to joke like that?
  2. Will any of my students mistake this kind of joking for flirting? (Let’s be honest, this has happened before outside the classroom, especially because I am careful who I joke about like this as not everyone likes it, but that means that a lot of this kind of joking is focused on only a few people. So, in the past it has been mistaken for some kind of special attention hinting at a romantic interest. I don’t need that kind of misinterpretation inside the classroom.)

These concerns extend to other things I might try to do for fun as well. For example, I debated all summer long whether to show this YouTube video to my students:

Is it relevant to anything in the course? No. But it’s funny and would help lighten the mood in the classroom. (For those of you who aren’t into video games or certain Nintendo games, the music is from the Kirby series and has been used in the Super Smash Bros. soundtracks, so most students in a Computer Science class would likely at least recognize it.)

Image result for kirby

My concerns for showing the video? It’s based on the Single Ladies music video, starring women in tight leotards. So, is it appropriate to show in a college classroom? Is it appropriate to show in a college classroom consisting almost entirely of men? Is it appropriate for me, a woman, to show in a college classroom consisting almost entirely of men? (Ultimately, I showed it to a few students after the semester was over, towards the end of a social event– a game night– that I organized to celebrate the end of a difficult class for them. It got a good laugh.)

So, the bottom line for me is this: How can I be my authentic teaching self when my personality leans towards jokes and other fun things while my classes consist of a bunch of teenage/early-20 boys? Where does that balance lie? What kind of professor do I want to be vs what kind of professor can I or should I be?

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