Monday, January 13, 2014

We're All in the Right Place

One of my resolutions for this year is to pick up blogging again. I’ve been inspired to pick up the practice again because of my professional colleague Jacob Babb over at Inventing the Professor. He recently wrote about the start of new academic terms. Since I met two of my new classes today, it seems appropriate to (sorta, kinda, unofficially) re-launch this blog with a post about such beginnings. 

Imagine the scene. Five minutes before class began, I walked into the room. I didn’t want to be any earlier (concerned students might think “he’s got nothing else to do, does he?”) or later (imagining that students would wonder “he just wants to show up and not otherwise be bothered, doesn’t he?”). The room was full with twenty-five students seated in rows formed by long, immobile tables--the kind of tables that could crush collaborative efforts with their heft and with the weight of their implied claim that teaching looks like one thing: everybody stays in one place, watching the person up front.

Walking through the break in the middle of those table rows, I ask, while looking side to side, “This is English 1302, right?” A few nods, a couple of smiles in response. Though I knew full well I was in the right place, I wanted to put students at ease, to say, “We’re in this together. We’re all in the right place.” 

Classes, especially English and writing classes, were places I did well as a student. My fondness for stories, my affection for language, my hope for a more humane world—these interests always found affirmation. A few of my students may have the same experience. Many more likely have the experience of writing class as boring class, while others know it as hurtful class. I want to acknowledge students’ past writing experiences—whether painful or hopeful—to honor them. Students will come to reflect on their own writing histories, imagine forward to their writing futures, and think rhetorically about interventions they want to make. 

Together, over the next fifteen weeks, we’ll read, talk, think, hope, laugh, get frustrated, lose faith that the term will ever end, and then be astonished that the end came so fast. But in the meantime, we start. We’re in this together. We’re all in the right place.

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