Writing. Design. Social Change.

Posts tagged ‘teaching’

9:00-11:00 AM at Saint Joesph’s University

I cry a little on the drive to work today.

Waiting at the crosswalk at City Line Avenue, a student is not wearing a mask.

I walk across campus to the tents organized along the track to get my mandatory COVID-19 saliva test. I sit under the canopy until I fill up a plastic vial with saliva. The results are supposed to take 2-3 days.

While waiting to cross City Line Avenue on the way back from the COVID-19 test there is another student with no mask. I debate what to do, (keep my distance? say nothing?) but end up saying, “Hey, would you mind putting your mask on, please?”

The student says, “yes,” and gives me a look.

Walking back to my office my bag begins to drip. I was so nervous when I had to get my glasses out of my bag during the spit test that my pencil case contents spilled everywhere along with a container of hand sanitizer. Sadly, this is not the first time something like this has happened.

I see groups of students walking 3 in a row down the sidewalk. One group is giving a university tour.

11:00 AM – 1:00 PM

Back in my office, I light a lavender travel candle for aromatherapy.

I put tissues in my pocket because I’ve been getting spontaneous nose bleeds this past week.

I answer emails, read the department Slack channel, fill out forms.

As a member of the Community Standards Board, I sign up for training sessions to serve on appeal panels related to pandemic-related violations (e.g. off-campus parties).

I take my books back to the library which I’ve had out since March. I drop them in the outdoor box, which has previously been locked.

Another university tour with parents goes by.

Cross the street again, walk back to my office, which thankfully, is a relatively private.

The roses that I planted in March are blooming for the second time this summer, but all the indoor plants have died.

Since the inter-library loan has opened up, I order some books from other universities; hopefully, they arrive before it shuts down again.

Look in my bag and there is still a library book in there.

Look in my drawers for something to eat.

Pop some microwave popcorn for stress eating.

We receive an email that the saliva test results will be delayed.

1:00 – 2:00 PM

Continue to line up our community partner projects for the Beautiful Social Research Collaborative.

Meet with four students before class to discuss upcoming community projects.

Bring out some chairs to the outdoor tents on the patio for class.

Chat with Mike, our department chair. We talk about anxiety and exposure therapy. He suggests maybe it won’t be so challenging in the coming weeks, once I’m used to this.

2:00 – 3:30 PM

Teaching my first class of the semester, COM 441 Social Media and Community Engagement.

We are spread out among three rooms on the lower level of Bronstein Hall.

I go from room to room explaining the course structure.

I keep repeating myself.

I talk to students about anxiety and the strangeness of being back.

I have to tell students not to sit on seats that have a sign “do not sit.”

They generally ignore the signs to stay six feet away from each other.

There’s no projector or slides because we are all spread out.

I’ve made a writable PDF worksheet for them to accompany the readings.

We have outdoor tents on the patio, but no one wants to sit out there.

It’s 90 degrees.

4 students sit on the patio when I ask them to.

I sit with them while we talk about this semester’s virtual projects with community partners.

Mike snaps a photo as he walks by.

The university issues an energy curtailment, due to the heat.

Students install hypothes.is a social annotation tool for social reading and we populate a text with annotations.

Students are diligent, polite, and quietly work on a writing activity.

All of this could be better facilitated online.

I’m looking into student’s eyes more as I speak to them.

Some of them look familiar, but it’s hard for my brain to conjure up the other half of their face, although I keep trying to.

I go back to my office to breathe for a moment and Mike visits me to see how it went and offers his support.

3:30-4:45 PM

My second course begins: Visual Design.

Again we are spread out in different rooms.

No one wants to be outdoors under the canopies.

I explain that 15 minutes ago I sent them an email with a PDF with the day’s agenda.

Several students raise their hands to say they didn’t receive it.

Some received it on their phone but not the email on their laptop.

One cannot open the PDF.

Two student-athletes come in during class and ask how to borrow laptops from the gear room.

I say there is a protocol for that but I don’t know what it is off the top of my head.

The gear information on our website has not been updated.

15 minutes later, the rest of the students receive the email.

The one student still cannot open the PDF.

The two student-athletes are sitting in the room listening to me as I explain the week’s activity.

Some students are coming right up to me trying to show me their laptop screens, to discuss where they are having problems.

I can’t really see their screens while trying to back away and keep some distance. I give them my best guess.

I go to my office, in the building behind Bronstein Hall, to resend the PDF for the student.

I have forgotten my keys.

I go back to Bronstein Hall to get the keys from my bag, go back to my office and post the PDF to Canvas in our Learning Management System.

I check on her but she still cannot open the PDF.

I explain that she needs to go to IT if she cannot figure out how to open it because she will need to open  PDF’s every week.

Different students are all at different places in the activity.

The student-athletes have procured laptops and are trying to do the assignment.

Oh, they are in my course!?

I try to help them while still maintaining a modicum of social distance.

One student says he is so lost, is that okay to not do it right now?

Students talk to me about how strange the campus feels. I tell them how anxious I was/am.

They say they too are anxious, “this year is so different and confusing compared to last year, with signs and arrows, masks, and distancing.”

One student says her computer is fried.

Class is now over and I sit and talk to the student who was lost for a while.

I pack my things.







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As my friends and colleagues return to the classroom this Fall, I am curious to know what extent you try to build a learning community in your classroom? Each semester I feel my emphasis gravitate more and more to this endeavor. For those committed to this act, or for those influenced by reading bell hook’s Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom — what works for you? I have gleaned some ground rules from bell hooks which I share below and am curious to know more about how others encourage their students to take responsibility for making class “work.”





Use your authority constructively

Power is not negative. It’s what you do with it. hooks uses her authority to facilitate pedagogical practices which create ruptures in the established order. This promotes modes of learning which challenge what she calls “bourgeois hegemony.”

Engage in dialogue

Tell students that they are here to contribute to the dialectical exchange of ideas. Tell students that they will create their own communal context for learning by engaging in reflexive conversations. Tell students that they will all be critical thinkers and listeners in this classroom.

Create a classroom where there is a mutual responsibility for learning

Students may resist this practice, which insists they must participate in their education and not be passive consumers. They have been trained to see you as the only one with authority. The only one with legitimacy. To educate for freedom you have to change the way people think about pedagogical process–and this is especially true for students.

Before you try to engage them in a dialectical discussion of ideas that is mutual, you have to teach about your process.

Tip: Sit in a circle so everyone can look at one another. If students resist, they are really saying that they don’t want to be participants.

Create a space for everyone

Create a space for everyone’s voice in the classroom. The experience of listening to each voice strengthens everyone’s capacity to learn together. Emphasize that everyone has things of value to say. Create a space for everyone.

Tip: hooks has students write short paragraphs that they read aloud so that they all have a chance to hear unique perspectives and all are given the opportunity to pause and listen to one another.

Teach students how to really listen – how to hear one another

One of the responsibilities of the teacher is to help create an environment where students learn that, in addition to speaking, it is important to listen respectfully to others.

There is the responsibility of the teacher to show by example the ability to listen to others seriously. Who decides what is to be pursued in the classroom? You will need to redirect students’ attention away from your voice to one another’s voices.

Tip: hooks finds this happens quickly when students share their experiences in connection with academic subject matter, because then people remember each other.

Make the class “work

The power of the liberatory classroom is, in fact, the power of the learning process—the work we do to establish a community. This “work” might include allowing the class to create their own syllabus, choose their own books, create their own assignments, etc.

Making the class “work” is everyone’s responsibility.

When class “isn’t working” ask students to take responsibility to interrogate why it’s not “working.” Recognize moods.

Simply asking “what’s this about?” can awaken an exciting learning process. Perhaps the set agenda needs to be changed.

Perform frequent identity checks

Questioning how you teach doesn’t question your right to exist as a teacher. The act of questioning does not threaten your identity as a teacher. When you dismantle the bourgeois notion of the professor the sense of significance and your role as teacher will be fundamentally changed. It is okay to grapple with these changes. Besides, what’s the alternative?

A good teacher is one who is not afraid to engage fully and deeply with the art of teaching.

Put no limits on the classroom

Welcome all discussions about ideas and beliefs and subject matter. How could you teach Toni Morrison yet not want to discuss class, race or gender when talking about her books?

Welcome emotional responses as well. There is a notion that to be truly intellectual we must be cut off from our emotions.  Make a place for emotional responses in the classroom. When we bring our passions to the classroom, there is often a deeper level of engagement.

Acknowledge your body–your physical presence– in the classroom

You are not just a mind.  [The old tweed jacket with the rumpled shirt and mustard on the pants]. You have more than an intellectual effect on the student. You also have an effect on how that student perceives reality beyond the classroom.

Tip: Ask students how the class has affected them beyond the classroom walls.

Engage your body in the classroom

Leave your podium and walk around. You will be risking your body—the social order. Do not erase your body. You need to disrupt the notion of the professor as omnipotent, all-knowing “mind.”

You are also a touchable, flawed, body. With that body you can create a space for radical openness.

Think back to the bodies of your professors? Can you recall them as bodies as well as minds? bell hooks remembers very few whole bodies.  Giving fully of yourself includes the giving of your body and getting beyond the mere transmission of information in lectures. When you ask students to think differently about race, class or gender, you are also preparing them to live differently. And that means how their bodies, as well as their minds, relate to the world.

Don’t let people confuse a lack of recognizable traditional formality with a lack of seriousness

Tell students not to confuse informality with a lack of seriousness.

Some may not appear to “respect your authority.” Hooks suggests that the fear of losing people’s respect has discouraged many professors from trying new teaching practices.

It seems traditionally that to prove our academic seriousness students should be almost dead, quiet, asleep, not up, excited and buzzing – or lingering around the classroom.

Tip: Encourage the class to discuss the classroom’s values and commit to and uphold libratory practice in the classroom.

Orchestrate, yet do not lead the conversation

Remember that you are not there to relay information. You are there to work with people.

Once the space for dialogue is open, the moment must be orchestrated.  Steer the conversation away from people who like to hear themselves talk or people who are unable to relate experience to the subject matter.

Tip: At times you may need to interrupt to say: “That’s interesting, but how does that relate to the novel we’re reading?”

You have things to learn from your students

In a critically engaged classroom, you are empowered to learn along with the students. You are also influenced by what students say in the classroom, what they do and what they express. You grow intellectually by learning better ways to share knowledge and what to do in your participatory role with students.

Position yourself as a learner as well.  hooks doesn’t say that we’re all equal here – she’s not suggesting that she doesn’t have more “power” but she does say that we are all equal here to the extent that we are equally committed to creating a learning context.

Transgress, transgress, transgress

Make points of connection with people by continuously crossing boundaries of class, race or gender.

Tip: Ask your students to consider why we only speak and write standard English in the classroom? Encourage students to use their own language or dialect to express themselves. A translation might be necessary – but that’s okay. Saying something first, in the way you want to say it is to practice education as a liberatory practice. When we do this we liberate ourselves in language. When we make our language conform to standards we are –sometimes unconsciously – complying with a culture of domination.

Empower, empower, empower

Grades are something students control by their labor in the classroom. The obsession with good grades has much to do with fear of failure. Progressive teaching tries to eradicate that fear.

Tip: Empower students to have the skills to assess their academic growth properly.

Meet resistance

Even after you take these steps, some students will still see you as the “dictator.” They will see you as dictating that they engage in a liberatory practice, so they comply.

Scenario: When a student says something that you say is good, helpful, smart, etc—it is only through the act of your validating that the other students take note. (In the end, it’s the teacher’s voice that everyone knew all along was the only one to listen to)

Tip: Encourage that students discuss their values and actions and stand up for what they believe in the classroom at all times.

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