Becoming. Teachers and Students
Becoming. I use this word a lot when working with teachers and students. Something about the perpetual change it suggests, the constant movement from one physical, emotional, and intellectual state to another, encompasses what it means to be both a student and teacher for me. Coming into being, in this sense, is an ongoing process, one that is never truly complete. As students, we are always learning, growing, moving forward, circling back. And the same is true of teachers. Teachers, in fact, are perhaps professional students—always hoping to learn more, to learn alongside, to move forward, and to circle back with their students.
When I taught my first writing class over two decades ago, I did not think of my journeys as a student or as a teacher as journeys of becoming. In fact, I think both experiences might better be described as survival. My goals my first year teaching rarely exceeded making it through an individual week without someone discovering I was a fraud, that I had no idea what I was doing, and that I, myself, could not write, much less teach others to do so in ways that mattered. My guess is that many of us have been in this position. Offering up a brief prayer to the pedagogy gods in which we fervently hope that we can fake it until we make it. That no one would discover our vulnerabilities and fears. I think, too, that students feel this way when they enter our classes. Their performances are, in reality, no different from our own.
This summer is a summer of change in our home. Our oldest daughter is leaving for college this fall. Not surprisingly, this has me in my feels as a parent and as a professor. I find myself thinking a lot about what it means to be a teacher and a student in today’s world of school violence, racial injustice, and pandemic-informed pedagogies, and I find myself pondering how my daughter will navigate this world, what performances she will choose. I wonder if her student experiences will lean toward surviving that first semester, or if she will stumble into becoming more quickly than I did (my experiences as a first-time, first-year freshman were also dicey). I am also curious about the experiences of the professors whose classes she will enter. Are these faculty in survival mode? Are they invested? Will they be transparent about their expectations? Will my daughter have the confidence she needs to ask them for assistance if she needs it?
My memories of my early days teaching are a collage of moments—some good, some bad. A strange mixture of fear, desire, concern, and confidence. An edited collection of potential lesson plans and advice. A textbook focused on pop culture readings. A first-year composition section in which my facade of teacher seemed to work and go unquestioned. Another section in which I bombed. The students in that second section seemed to know intrinsically that my twenty-two-year-old authority and experience were teetering on the verge of nothingness. There were individual students whose names and faces I still remember today. Ember. Michael. Jada. What I don’t remember is whether or not my students felt invited and welcomed to learn and talk about language in ways that mattered. It was years into my teaching journey before I realized that I desperately wanted to be a good teacher.
As I look toward the fall semester and think about the classes I will teach and the classes my daughter will take at a university with which I am not affiliated, I hope that this next year will be a year of becoming for both of us. That I will learn more about the desires and goals of students through her experiences and that she will be interested in learning from my experiences as a faculty member. I’ve also been thinking a lot about whether or not I have advice of value for my daughter as she starts this journey. It occurs to me that I am in a good position to offer her advice from the perspective of parent and professor. Perhaps that will be my next post.