This was my first time teaching at the college level and I could not have asked for a better experience. It began with the expected nerves. In hindsight, my outlook entering the semester was shaped by a weird mixture of tense|thrilled imposter syndrome feelings. Was I capable of teaching college students? Will they take me seriously? What did I want them to leave the semester with? What were the course's take-aways? What aspects of Women's Studies do I feel obligated to share with students encountering this material for the first time? How can I work my politics and my pedagogy into a fruitful synergy? A Feminist Pedagogy course with Katie was pivotal to considering these initial questions. In this weekly seminar, I was able to supplement my time in front of the classroom with a critical conversation on the type of teaching feminist educators opt to practice. Carving out time to meet with four other Women's Studies PhD students was extremely constructive to my own developing pedagogy. We shared lesson plans and teaching materials and held the occasional grading party. Shoutout to King's Queens!
By the end of the semester my students began to acknowledge the nuances of privilege and individual identity intersections as well as question systemic and structural oppression. And honestly, we had fun while engaging in these challenging topics. I began each discussion section by screening a music video. I followed the video with a Think-Pair-Share: Students wrote a short response to the video in their journals, paired up with peers to discuss their writings, and finally the class opened up to a large conversation where everyone was asked to share their opinions on whether or not they thought the music video was feminist. I started off with Independent Women by Destiny's Child, my middle school anthem. As the semester progressed, I threw it back to More Than a Woman by Aaliyah and Video by India.Arie. I then played some of the songs that frequented my headphones during the fall months: Pretty Girl by Little Dragon, Hotline Bling by Drake, and Borders by MIA. During our final meeting I let them choose the videos - We spent the afternoon watching Justin Bieber videos back to back... #notabelieber.
Women's Studies is often regarded as an "Easy A" class. On the contrary, our course demanded an interrogation of gender norms, capitalism, metacognition, and artistic expression. Our course, thus, demanded critical thinking. Above all, I intended to instill in my students the willingness to question everything and to practice generosity in listening. I shared with them Foucault's words: Where there is power there is resistance. I was open with my politics and shared my activist experiences as a college student. This openness seemed to help develop a team camaraderie within my section. As I look ahead to my second and final semester TAing before I begin teaching my own course next fall I'll keep in mind my investment in this critical|convivial spirit as well as the concept of listening with raw openness. Listening is beginning to become a sort of schtick of mine.
Below is the first draft of my teaching philosophy, a document that will play a significant role once I go on the market. The teaching philosophy was one component within our Teaching Portfolio, the major assignment in the Feminist Pedagogy course. I'm posting it here so I can look back and track its changes - to see what remains constant - & to remember what I felt was important during my first time teaching.
The sound of students settling into classroom desks mimics the sound of a ball bouncing in an open gymnasium. Each noise echoes; each hum passes through my ear in a way that brings together my love of basketball with my feminist frenzies and queer qualms. These sounds exist in a vortex, one where my experience playing and coaching basketball whirls in tandem with my novice teaching experience. As a point guard, I was called upon to embody a composed command of a team, facilitate plays, and communicate the coach’s message to the other players on the court. As a coach, I centered encouragement and diligence as I led a group of players to translate physical drills into life lessons of accountability, dedication, and adversity. Now as a college educator, I find myself situating curiosity and inquiry at the center of my teaching philosophy. Wonder, inquisition and interrogation are pressing demands in an academic capitalist climate that privileges strict evaluations, finite definitions, and high stakes.
My athletic and team-centered background finds surprising and enduring effects. My four fellow TAs and I created a Zine Fest assignment to introduce and explore Intersectionality. On October 29th, a fellow TA, Cara Synder, and I team taught a discussion section. On November 14th, a colleague and I led a community workshop at an LGBTQ student conference. My teaching philosophy, then, is rooted in my experience playing and coaching basketball. Basketball instilled a boldness to devote my efforts to something fun. Feminist theory and pedagogy implanted an audacious questioning of normalizing institutions.
As a coach and a teacher, I value the invaluable act of listening. In my class, I ask my students to listen radically. Radical listening is an inter-action between multiple people, multiple forces, multiple senses. I came across the concept of radical listening this past summer while I was reading for my comprehensive exams. In Transformation Now!: Toward a Post-Oppositional Politics of Change, AnaLouise Keating invites scholars and educators to transform the oppositional ways we relate to identity, politics, culture, teaching and reading. One of the core techniques Keating proposes is a form of radical listening:
“We must listen to each other. It sounds so obvious … doesn’t it? But we (I’m thinking here of womanist/feminist scholars, educators, and students, but it applies to those in other social-justice disciplines as well) spend so much time coming to voice, talking back, and transforming[ing] silence into language and action that we seem to forget the importance of listening – opening ourselves and really hearing what others say”. She goes on to say, “Listening with raw openness is multidirectional. We need numerous overlapping dialogues among all types of people”.
In a classroom setting where multiple bodies and experiences interact, listening with raw openness is essential. My classes have opted to stimulate conversations and engage in interactive activities, with a devoted attention to listening in mind.
Educators, like coaches, must provoke. Despite the neoliberal academy’s increased levels of corporatization, I believe that the university must still function as a space that both cultivates cultural critique and nourishes a sustained pursuit of better societal formations. My approach to teaching is one that views education as a tool to resist neoliberal policies and imagine other ways of organizing society. In order to do this, I practice a passionate fusion of educated hope and utopian thought. Within this fusion beats a critical outlook of militant optimism that aims to leave students with an investment in everyday acts of survival and creative challenges to structural oppression.