Reflections on Teaching: Fall 2015

This semester was, for lack of a better analogy, a roller coaster. Every week, every class, promised a new experience, a new journey. For better or for worse, I was learning, I was changing the formulas and methods in which I engaged with my students, how I engaged with myself.  Overall, as I quickly learned, I wanted a classroom space of experimentation.

I viewed each class as a space of experimentation. A space that values risks and variables, controls and constants.  I learned this, surprisingly, through the first few weeks of class. Students were doing many low-stakes writing assignments that forced them into new terrains of writing. They were reading and engaging with material that jarringly ripped them from spaces of comfort. Each day, each week, each lesson sometimes strung together beautifully, and some did not. Some readings didn’t resonate with them; others did. Some (including myself) couldn’t find the ties that bind between certain styles or modes of writing, or styles of text. These initial weeks were wonderful in that they underlined how generative and powerful a classroom space could be when it allowed for communal experimentation, that is, a classroom where students and professor were invested in slipping up, allowing one another to slip up, to risk writing something unusual, to risk saying something that perhaps might have troubled others (even myself!).

Gradually,  I started realizing that I, too, I was immersed in experimenting with the boundaries of the classroom.  For instance, after a few days of not participating with the students in low-stake writing assignments, believing that if I did it I would blur the boundaries between professor/students. When I did one with them, then shared, they seemed grateful that I did that. For me, it was totally risky, where broadcasting my own personal stories and experiences with them was totally frightening for a list of reasons. Later on, multiple students commented upon what I disclosed to them, during class discussion. As horrible as that could be, it was actually nice: they engaged with my story, put it in context with Anzaldúa’s  The Borderlands/La Frontera, and generated awesome new meanings. Many times, not just these, but I found myself nodding my head eagerly, writing notes, and dwelling on a students comment about a subject. I can only hope that these bodily gestures and performances could have illuminated how moved, how provoked I was by their words. Such moments of disclosure, moments of allowing myself to be student in their eyes, hopefully, carried forward. I hope that it underlined the possibilities of a classroom of risk, a classroom where all of us are students, and all of us are teachers. A classroom that the boundaries of what we hold to be true, or not true about ourselves, could have been tested, redefined.

I have to admit, I started class with certain expectations. They were many, and they were varied. I had high hopes for students to be invested, to be interested, from the get-go. Eventually, as I came to find out, my expectations, if I didn’t want to get hurt, had to decrease, or, I think, had to be re-directed. This did not demand a lack of interest, or withdrawal from helping these students as much as I could. There was, however, a level of detachment I had to enact for my own mental well-being. Students each come in with different backgrounds, different interest, and, most importantly, different investments. Some students were very excited, or very nervous, about approaching writing and critical thinking but were willing to take those risks, to get the most out of their time in class. Other students were completely disengaged, could care less about the class, me, or their peers. This was troubling, and bothered me for a very long time. It took me some time to learn that helping these students was indeed possible, but I just had to refit the protocols of how I saw helping them. For instance, one student showed up, never did the reading, even went so far as to try plagiarizing an entire paper. He didn’t care, and made this starkly apparent on numerous of occasions. What could I do for this student? What possibilities for helping him and his learning could be achieved? After all, he was a component in making possible the ability for me to sit in front of that classroom? Did I owe him something? My solution, in some ways, was to be upfront. I asked him during conferences what did he want from this class, if anything? What did he need from me as a professor Asking him directly expectations, outcomes, and behaviors in class seemed fruitful going forward.

The amount of things I wish I had done differently this first semester are numerous. Too many to recount. At the same time, I don’t know if I could have done anything different if I did not have the experiences I had this semester. To be honest, I would like to have another classroom (or approach the classroom) where I would have that freshness of having no experiences, not knowing any expectations. This experimentation that I had this past semester I don’t want to lose. I guess, in many ways, I’m thinking of several questions: How I do retain the sense of being on my toes? Of adapting events and classroom dialogue in the moment? I am scared that I will get too comfortable, too into the groove, as I keep going forward.

In terms of writing assignments I do want to redesign, if not scrap entirely, my old assignments. I have been thinking of keeping the personal essay, and installing a new second paper/project of creating a zine. For me, this is very, very exciting and something that I see has the potential to hit the target of creating writing for a larger public, while still employing rhetoric, argument, and innovation. I also still reconsidering approaches to the research paper but haven’t stumbled upon anything totally appealing. Also, the low-stakes writing, eventually, after the mid-way point, got exhaustive for students. There excitement and interest in doing them waned.  So, I am trying to figure how to renovate what the possibilities for low-stakes writing can look like. Perhaps, more experimental or unconventional modes might be helpful to re-engage students during the mid semester mark when they are already tuned out in many ways.

The practicum was immensely helpful. Besides the general time dedicated to being able to address the immediate issues in class, I found the theoretical issues regarding composition studies and classroom politics so enriching, and so necessary for shaping my thinking as a scholar, writer, and teacher. I do not foresee that I will be jumping on the boat of composition studies, but I found these concerns related to composition studies informing all the ways I think and operate.