Here is a disclaimer that I just wrote for the preface to my Troubling Teaching Portfolio:
DISCLAIMER: My troubling teaching portfolio is not a eulogy for a past life, but a celebration of that past, along with my present and future life as a troublemaking educator.
This is a troubling portfolio in which I reflect on and write about my teaching life and materials through the lens of trouble. Much of the trouble that I describe in these pages, is the joyful, life-affirming, potentially transformative, transgressive, stimulating, illuminating, exhilarating, and just plain fun kind. My descriptions of the trouble that causes harm and signals unjust and really fucked up learning environments—the kind that seems to be a direct, if not always intentional, result of “the Neoliberal University”—will be kept to a minimum. This “bad” kind of trouble surely haunts many of my accounts, and I hint at it repeatedly, but I don’t want to give too much energy to it or get sucked back into the feelings of sadness, inadequacy, or grief over lost dreams that it stirs up within me. Besides, plenty of really smart, brave, and insightful people are writing about the problems with the Neoliberal University in much more effective ways than I probably ever could, or would want to.
When I first started this project, I wasn’t intending to avoid writing explicitly about the structural/institutional/political problems with the university. But, after getting seriously stuck in my efforts to respond to an especially annoying article about being a professor, by an especially arrogant and annoying professor, I realized that if I approached this project with anger, a lot of frustration, and some bitterness, my project would lack the joy and passion for being a thinker, an intellectual, a scholar, and a teacher that I desperately want to reclaim. So now as I gather materials and write my stories, I’m working hard to avoid giving into anger or sadness or even regret about what I lost or could have been within the academy. And when I do discuss the problems with University teaching, I’m mostly using humor in the form of snark*, which is more fun and joyful than you might think.
After re-reading this disclaimer, I think I need to add to it just a bit. I also want to write something about my desire to not be too critical of myself, to not devalue the work that I did.
*One example of my use of snark:
List! Behaving Improperly in the Classroom
- De-emphasized grades, not because I hated grading, but because I strongly disliked how grades were so often the single most important motivation for why students actually completed assignments and I was frustrated by how students seemed to rarely look beyond the letter grade or point total to the feedback that I was giving them
- Replaced assignments designed to prove mastery, as in the ability to regurgitate the teacher’s beliefs, which were themselves expected to regurgitate the accepted disciplinary canon of ideas and authors, with assignments that encouraged engagement and enabled students to actually apply what they were learning and maybe even use it after the class was over
- Avoided giving in-class lectures and having to stare into the dead eyes of students who weren’t listening because they’d mentally checked out of the class the minute I started talking by using the blog for posting my notes and summaries, by distributing lengthy handouts (56) and by devoting most of class time to small group and large group discussions
- Refrained from giving easy (or any) answers that could shut down curiosity, opting instead for posing questions that invite students to think, rethink, and expand their perspectives, which could be frustrating for some students and exhilarating for others
- Pushed at the limits of what counted as appropriate “academic” reading/content by favoring online readings over “traditional” academic articles, analyzing popular culture like The Brady Bunch and cooking magazine ads with images of brussels sprouts that look like penises, and discussing theories and projects that involve a lot of swearing, like shit studies, FCKH8, and fuck reproductive futurism
- Tried, not often that successfully, to be a person in the classroom
- Persistently worked to de-center myself as the (only) Authority in the class and repeatedly rejected the role of Expert by encouraging others in class to be mentors and sources of knowledge (65), avoiding preaching or presenting material as the Truth, refusing to pretend that I knew everything, or almost everything, and encouraging, almost to a fault, feedback from the students on what did and didn’t work in the class
Bonus: Here’s a post I wrote about snarking and cranking as forms of resistance.