I’ve been having, over the past moment (okay, year really) some weird comments about identity and teaching with fellow instructors:
- It all started in November of last year, when an individuals who does lectures to college classes (she’s not a professor, she does lectures to random classes at times) who told me how she introduced the idea of her belief system in her lectures (feminism), even when the lecture didn’t SPEAK about that term. I showed skepticism, ensuring her that I understand her belief system (I consider myself something of a feminist), but didn’t understand why it seemed necessary to make issue of this. She indicated that it was important that her speakers (who would only encounter her for 30 minutes, at most) knew who she was.
- Fast forward to January, a random meeting with an anthropology professor at one of the community colleges I’ve taught. He talks about his sexual orientation, and then explains how he “outs” himself in every class. Again, skepticism. Why? I ask. He states it is to “get it off the table, and make it public. If anyone has any issue with it, they should make it known”. I tell him I don’t necessarily see his logic – the information has nothing to do with his course, and what point does it serve? Get rid of homophobes from your class?
- Another conversation in February – a new graduate student (who is now a TA) explains to me how he brings up his educational past (Ivy League) in the classes he teaches. I’m flummoxed – he’s teaching a topic that has NOTHING to do with social class or educational level – how is it that the fact that you went to an extremely good tech school in Massachusetts play into ANY conversation? Similar to the last comments, he felt it is important to explain ‘who he is’.
- Next to last scenario – I need to be out of town in July, and ask someone to cover my class. Goes okay, I suppose. When I follow up, he talks about a person in class who has very little real world experience and pretty rigid ideas. Talks about how in class he explains about his sexual orientation (gay). I stop him – wait, given the topic you were to teach AND the fact that you were covering ONE lecture….how does YOUR sexuality come into a class lecture? He seems bothered by the question – it makes perfect sense to him to disclose his orientation to a class.
- Last – talking to someone in my department who comments on one of the philosophies of one of the professors in my department who feels he must ‘act gay’ and be ‘clearly seen as gay’ in order to serve as a good role model. She’s confused – I offer her ZERO help on that one.
My point- What. The Hell.
Since when did instruction become about your identity issues?
It’s extremely difficult in a college class setting, when you’re doing something other than lecturing, to not self disclose. Especially when you have a topic like mine (Sociology), it’s only natural to, at very limited times, use your own experience as a metric. However, there are caveats:: (1) you can’t do it repeatedly (2) there have to be some other opinions and (3) there has to be appropriate context. Otherwise, if you don’t follow these rules, the class becomes about YOU.
There are some things I have (and do) share with my students, that I feel are relevant (such as coming from a large family, being born in a rural area, being a youngest child, being a runner) as, at times, these make me seem more relevant to my topics. However, there are clear swaths of my personal life I would even THINK of sharing with my students – it’s really not their business, just like I don’t want to know about their lives.
I am seriously not sure if the practices of identity endear you to students, or just make you feel like you do. Like I said to the last example (from my department), whenever this self disclosure is going on, I must wonder “is the person doing it for others, or are they really doing it for themselves”?
I could be off base here (thus the blog post), but it just strikes me as…odd.