Thursday, September 27, 2012


Among the things I encounter when reading the journals I take are calls for proposals, requests for works to be submitted for presentation and publications periodical and otherwise.  I do not always answer them, as I do not always have it in me to offer what they ask.  But I do try to respond to a number of them, such as that which College Composition and Communication currently has open.

I have been doing a fair bit of thinking about how I am going to respond to it.  As I have done so, it has occurred to me that I am facing a task much like that which I assign to my students in various classes.  Like them, I am facing a general topic and a page-limit (well, really a word-limit, but it works out more or less the same).  Like many of them, I am having some difficulty in generating specific ideas to address in what I hope to submit and see get into print; the general topic being offered is fairly broad, and there are many ways in which it might be addressed.

I suppose that since I am in circumstances similar to those in which my students find themselves (at least regarding the assignments I give them), I ought to apply processes and exercises to my predicament similar to those I exhort them to employ.  It would be good of me to do, certainly; modeling is good pedagogy, and my use of the techniques I recommend accords them an additional degree of ethos.  Too, it will afford me more lived experience with them, which will make it easier for me to discuss them with my classes, and that can hardly hurt the quality of my instruction.*

Even so, some uneasiness attends on the idea.  Discussion of my struggles with the students may well be unproductive--or even harmful.  It is certainly possible that instead of developing empathy and rapport--"You see, folks, I am in the same place, facing the same things, so you can trust that what I tell you about facing them down works"--my expression of difficulty will undermine my authority to address the class from a position of knowledge, that I will present myself as someone not fit to guide them through their own difficulties--"Well, you jerk, if you have trouble, what hope have we got?  And if you're having trouble, what gives you the right to tell me how to do this?"

There is also the potential that I will try the things I have been recommending to my students and find that they do not work.  While I certainly expect that not all techniques work for all people (else why would we need to have more than one technique?), I worry about the implications of experiencing total failure of the tools with which I hope to provide my students.  Would I then be in the position of having to set aside my earlier teaching?  And would that not then give them reason to doubt everything else I give them?  Even though I do want them to be able to question that with which they are confronted, to be able to satisfy themselves of its validity, I fear the institutional ramifications that might arise.  Certainly, were I to admit openly that I have been in error in my instruction, the students would have ground to contest every grade I issue and every assignment I offer.

The consequences I imagine are, perhaps, a bit excessive.  They do, after all, assume that the students will pay attention to me in a way that will allow them to enforce those consequences upon me, and for all that I struggle to engage my students in the classroom, I am not convinced that they pay me much mind outside of it--and some do not do so within it, more's the pity.  Too, I have discussed this very issue before, and as yet, nothing bad has come of it.  But I remain conflicted as to how much I ought to let the students see of how I put my own work together--especially at the beginning, when I am having trouble focusing on a single line of argument.

*Those of you who are looking at me for my teaching style and techniques (and I know that there are some of you out there, even if you do not announce yourselves), take note that I worry about them even in my personal life, and that I discuss them openly in a forum which invites comment and critique.  And I do hope to receive some of each.

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