**This post was written over a month ago but I have been sitting on posting it. One of the main reasons is because I shiver in my 4 inch platform pumps to think about what will happen when/if one of my colleagues reads this. But, because I think there should be freedom of speech and because I feel this is not a singular event, I post on.**
As always, it has been months upon months since I have posted. To be honest, I have not had the mental energy to muster up anything and to sit down and write. Lately, the act of writing is like clipping my toe-nails. It is something I feel I have to do, but because no one really looks at my toes, the
shitty manner in which I do it doesn’t matter. Not the attitude I want to bring to the table.
Today, oh how today is different. Today I feel the need to vent some fears, truths, and social opinions I have been faced with. Let me tell you, these things are not pretty. In fact, they are most uncomfortable and unpleasant. But, because there are blogs, and because I feel that maybe one day this archaic post may help some new idiot embarking on the course of teaching writing, I write it.
As you all know through my wonderful posts on being an academic, (see “Living the Thug Life” post for further opinions) I live a wonderful life (obvious play of repetition). I wake up every day with birds fluttering through my window, dressing me, and helping me with my lesson plans. I come to a four year university and teach students alive with vision, passion, and drive to excel. They
love learning about writing. In fact, I am told that is the reason they choose to attend class at 7:00 AM twice a week, to listen to me lecture on the joy of writing.
Now, if you believed any of that you can’t read sarcasm or emphasis.
The obvious above meme has been used, reused, deleted, posted on Facebook, but it accurately shows the experience I go through on a daily basis. There is this misconception from every different avenue around me, but not one person really knows what it is like, unless you talk to a fellow Professor. Even then, our experiences vary dependent on what we teach, when we teach our courses, what campus we are on, do we work for a profit school or a not for profit school, are we research based, are we tenure track or adjunct. All of this weighs heavily on the experience that we have as individual Professors.
At the end of this semester, it will mark the end of my sixth semester teaching. I have been teaching for the last three years, and can I say, it has not gotten any easier. Sure, I no longer need to prep as much because I have material pre-set, but I am still facing challenges that never seem to go away. The largest one being my fellow peers, students, and my own reviews on my teaching.
This semester I had the
fulfilling experience of putting together a teaching portfolio for my department to evaluate my ability to teach. I had to print out over 100 pages of student reviews, statics of my student reviews, sample assignments, syllabi, worksheets, and organize it all into a nice and neat “portfolio.” All of this was done at my own expense, I had to buy a 3 inch binder and then was given the task of organizing all the required documents. I was given no real direction, just a rubric with what needed to be included. But the best part, the best part was I was asked to read ALL my student reviews and respond to them.
This is where things really started to get bad. As I read through the reviews, I had to face things like, “very nice professor, not timely in getting back papers,” “doesn’t know content of class, not a help at all,” or “would never recommend this Professor to anyone!” I can admit to my shortcomings. I know that I need to be timelier passing back papers, I know there are things I can do to make the class easier to follow. But deep down, it was like this massive wall of judgement, and most of it was negative.
As a professor, I try and do my best to assist each student in becoming a better writer, but sometimes that is hard to communicate the importance to people who will not use writing more than communicating with their staff at work. My fiance told me that I need to remember that not everyone loves writing, that in fact, most of the population hates it. OK, while this may be true, the only thing I really ask for of empathy. Pretend for a little while that what I have to say might just matter.
So I sat there, and I read the reviews, and I had to think of a way to respond to these things. How do I defend myself against all these things students are saying about me? Do I just say “they are on crack, do not accept their opinions?” or “yes, they are all right, I am lousy.” I took the middle road and stated my areas for growth and defended things I felt I did well.
Then the wait began………
Waiting for the portfolio to get reviewed by my academic peers, which is misleading because these are all just tenure-track academics who may not remember what it was like to start in the trenches of adjunct life.
In my mind, I felt as though the board all sat around and passed my portfolio mocking my sad attempt at teaching. Then, about two weeks ago I received a very thick envelope detailing my review. If my student evaluations were bad, these were the leeches come to suck from my open wounds.
I was told, while I am “enthusiastic,” my teaching style is not consistent and students would not recommend me to their peers. That they feel I do not communicate the material well, and that overall the experience within the classroom is OKAY.
I felt deflated.
Having been all of my life a person who scores above average, being told by my peers I am merely acceptable as a teacher was sickening. Ever since my graduate program, which there too I was merely average, I have not seemed to blossom into anything else. What is this slump that I appear to be in?
I allowed myself to feel bad for a few hours, and then I said, I will learn what I can, and I will start to self-evaluate. Where am I? What am I doing? Maybe I am not a good teacher, maybe I can’t pass on the knowledge that I have inside my brain. Contrary to belief, those that can’t do, teach thing is
bullshit. Those that can, teach. You need to be able to do the thing you are teaching!
That brings me to today, over the course of the last few months, but particularly last week, I have been thinking about all of the things I need to accept. Well, as I deal with my own demons, life goes on.
Today I finished my morning class, and as is my OCD habit, I made my way to the Department office. I like to go in and see my office secretaries, tell them good morning, get a cup of water, raid the pantry, the whole nine yards. While this morning while I was in there I ran into a fellow colleague. This individual and I have had “mean girl” type of run ins where she says something rude veiled in a compliment. I think of her as a resident cat lady who needs to find drama in someone’s life in order to feel she is doing well.
She sees me and says, “Oh, I was recently looking at Rate-My-Professor and saw that you had some really bad reviews. One of them was just rude, so I went on and I wrote you a new one. I just wanted to let you know in case you saw it.”
My jaw dropped. I mean, I know my reviews are not good. I have long since stopped reading that site. Every time I went on it just made me feel as though I was failing in my attempt at teaching. But now, to know that my fellow “peers” go on and read my reviews and then pass judgement on me based on my reviews. Who I am as a person, is not, and SHOULD not be defined by my ability to teach (light bulb moment).
So here I am. Just when I think I am on the verge of acceptance, there is something else to make me doubt who I am. When I am here teaching, I feel like so much of who I am is based on the review of others. My life as a teacher is dependent on reviews. How much my students like me. How much of the grades are accepted by the students. Do the tenure track faculty think I am doing a good job. So little of my life is based on me as an individual. I mean, at the end of the day, I am the only person there. One person against the masses.
In life we always have to grow, we always have to question who we are in this moment. Do I like myself? Do I think I am being the best, most honest version of who I am in this moment? And that is the kicker for me. In the classroom, I feel like I have been the best, most honest version of myself in the last year, and yet that doesn’t seem to translate. How do you reconcile the disparity?
I am faced with looking at who I am in the classroom and deciding, am I going to attempt to change something, or is this just not my meant path. I feel lost in that. There are moments so vivid when I see a connection with a student and I know I am in the right place, and then there is everything else.
I am left with a summer to review, who am I as a teacher, and where am I going?
Or, I can simple just quit teaching. But what I do know is this: this process of review…it is just the beginning. And how
the hell am I going to balance this with a wedding?!?