Teaching and all the Feels

originally posted (well sometime in June 2015) by Lisa Meloncon

So I was lucky enough to meet Aimée Morrison a couple of years ago at Carolyn Miller’s Emerging Genre conference . I “knew” her from Twitter and the hookandeye collaborative , but getting to talk with her in person was a great experience. She has this passion and energy and knowledge that is impressive and inspiring.

Recently, Aimée wrote a blog post, ‘Teaching and all the feels,” that I sent out with our #womeninTC hashtag because the issues that Aimée brings up, we’ve talked around on twitter, at our organized events, and in one-on-one conversations. She asked me what I thought, and I realized I had quite a few thoughts about it.

What struck my about it was three things.

First, these sorts of feelings aren’t valued so we don’t talk about them. Which is not good. I realize that often teaching labor is feminized and as such, helps to perpetuate the myth that teaching isn’t as valuable as research (and at some institutions, not as valuable as service). So that means talking about our feelings helps to further gender and theoretically, marginalize teaching. While many of us would call bullsh*t on that stance, it’s a fact—truly a fact—that cannot be denied (go ahead, do a simple google scholar search and see for yourself!). But what’s important here for our work is the acknowledgement that this is something we need to prepared to deal with institutionally and professionally, while we still look toward being the best teachers that we can be. Sounds a little pie in the sky? Well, maybe, but the bottom line is that Aimée’s experiences are similar to many of us, and the sad fact is that we aren’t encouraged to talk about it, and we need to be talking about the embodied and emotional experiences that teaching can be.

Second, we need to acknowledge the labor that is involved with teaching, and the many facets of that labor, including the emotional aspects at that labor. Teaching is more than the time in the classroom, and it involves emotional labor that needs to be acknowledged more directly so that we can attend to how that labor effects/affects us. Courses with difficult subject matter can drain the emotional and mental life out of you every week. Block courses taught once a week can drain the mental and physical life out of you every week. Talking with students and attending to their lives as it relates to their education can drain you mentally, emotionally, physically. (I was never prepared or trained for the moment a young man came out to me and asked my help in writing a “rhetorically sound” letter to his parents.)

Third, I so appreciated the honesty in the reflection of her teaching evolution. It’s no secret that we need to work on better preparing and then offering ongoing training to grad students and early career faculty on teaching and how to do it better. Some of us are natural presenters so teaching is a little easier. For many of us, though, teaching is hard work just to do work of teaching, not to mention the preparation of it. It’s essential to reflect and find your groove and to know that it may be necessary to move OUTSIDE of your comfort zone to find the place where you feel you can teach so that it enables students to learn.

The bravest thing I ever did in the classroom as a teacher was to just let everything go. I gave up control and requirements and even grading (in the traditional sense). But I’m definitely to a place where I feel I can manage what Aimee calls the “sheer importance of the work” as it relates to the “all the feels.” I know I’m lucky though. I’ve just now figured out how to articulate it, which is important considering the many times and ways we are asked to describe (and defend) what we do. The articulation part is just as important as the doing part because it helps our own stance, but it also helps in advancing the overall idea of the important of teaching.

I always have to smile when I hear the arguments about why aren’t all students just taking online courses (or why the MOOC didn’t change the world the way some thought). For me, the biggest reason why we still have students in our classes, and probably always will, is that students crave personal attention. Students want to be in a class with an engaged and dedicated teacher who is experiencing “all the feels.” And sometimes that experience can only be truly had in a face-to-face classroom. (Please don’t start bashing me about the fact you can build a community online. I get that, but even online advocates—and really I am one—will acknowledge the difference in community in a face-to-face class.)

Cause here’s the thing: without that feeling, without engaging in the work of engaging with our students, you’re not teaching. You’re simply a conduit for a information delivery, and education is a whole lot more than that.

So as you’re working on planning your courses for the fall or thinking through pedagogy and teaching statements, it’s ok to feel a lot of stuff when you’re teaching and planning. And it’s ok if you want to talk about it. Just reach out and let’s experience all the feels together.

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