Sunday, July 15, 2012


A few days ago on another blog I "maintain," I discussed a recent experience of rejection, not of the once frequent in my life romantic variety, but of the still too common in my life publication type.  In the discussion, I note that I relate my own failure as a learning experience, and I hope in doing so that I am modeling the kind of writerly behavior the results of which I want to see from my students.

Putting the piece together reminded me of some of the reading I did a while back, and when I finally went to my office at work,* I was able to pull up the article which writing my blog entry had brought to mind.  It is Lad Tobin's Opinion piece, "Self-Disclosure as a Strategic Teaching Tool: What I Do--and Don't--Tell My Students," from College English 73.2 (November 2010), pages 196-206.  In the piece, Tobin makes the case--convincingly, to my mind--that teacherly revelations of personal experience should not be exempt from the same evaluations applied to other teaching tools and rhetorical maneuvers; that is, invocations of the self ought to be used in the classroom only when effective in illustrating particular concepts or developing the necessary ethos to teach.  He also points out that the risks inherent in revealing personal experience differ for instructors based on their own positions--something that comes across as obvious once stated but that needed to be laid out just to have it in the open.

In relating his own experience in employing various depictions of himself to his classes, he presents something of a paradox--although he is careful to say that his anecdotal experience ought not to be taken as Truth, so that the difficulty in resolving it is somewhat mitigated.  The conundrum is this: the exposure of the self can be a markedly effective teaching tool, but it can just as easily undermine the ability of a teacher to teach.  With this in mind, and knowing that the students I expect to have when I return to work are largely of lower socio-economic status, educationally disadvantaged (many dropped out of high school or have been away from formal schooling for quite some time), and in many cases immigrants or the children of immigrants, I have a question to pose: Is my relation of my own failure to get a piece published likely to aid my teaching (by presenting me as grappling with many of the same issues as my students, so that I am not asking them to do things that I do not demand of myself) or hinder it (by showing me up as someone who cannot do and thereby according with the old saw about those who teach)?  Or are there other options which I have not considered?

As ever, I look forward to input from others.

*I am on leave during the Summer 2012 term.  That only means that my classroom teaching is on hold.  I am still academically active, if not so much as I could otherwise hope to be.

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