My dear , happy new moon.
I’m in the midst of a busy teaching semester, trying hard to keep my head above water.
I know on the other side of the world, many of you have entered your Autumn/Fall term. If you are teaching too, I wish you a smooth semester. May all your students fall in love with your subject and read your syllabus thoroughly before sending you an email.
In case you’re in need of a class activity, I have a lesson plan on intersectionality to support your students to reflect on intersectional dynamics and structures in their lives. You also can download a copy of my lecture slides to adapt and use in your subject.
If you encounter any conflict in your classroom this term, I have a process that adopts a restorative justice approach to address harm.
, I’ve been thinking about the ways teaching, like many other parts of an academic job, can be enshrouded in secrecy.
A few years ago, I was asked to take over a colleague’s subject while she went on sabbatical. Our department chair asked her to share with me all her teaching materials so we could maintain a consistent experience for the students.
Weeks went by until finally just days before the start of semester, she emails me a ZIP file. It was full of PowerPoint files alright… but they were straight from the textbook publisher, with paragraphs copied straight from the textbook on monstrous black-and-white slides. They were completely unusable and I had to develop a new curriculum from scratch in three days.
Looking back on that experience, I can sympathize with my colleague’s nervousness about sharing her real teaching materials with me. Earlier this year, Concordia University was found to be reusing videos recorded by a professor who had died in 2019. With our labor devalued and our intellectual property appropriated, I can understand why we’d be protective of our materials.
Yet while our secrecy defends our intellectual property, it also keeps us isolated and overworked.
Without truly knowing what our colleagues do, it’s easy to imagine that everybody is working harder than you:
- A student follows up twice on an email over the weekend and we wonder if all our colleagues are replying to student queries instantaneously 24/7.
- We get our student evaluation scores and we have no idea if or how they’ve been shaped by our marginalized identities, our class sizes, or the fact our lectures were held on Friday evenings that semester.
- We fear our high grades mean we’re too lenient; we fear our low grades mean we’re too harsh.
- We receive a student complaint and we wonder if we’re uniquely incompetent.
In a kinder academy, we need to share information and resources and treat the information and resources shared with us with respect.
Websites such as Teachers Pay Teachers hosts an impressive library of teaching materials and allows creators to be compensated for their labor. When we use free resources, we can also credit their creators and further amplify their work. We can challenge the oppressive norms of academia with generosity.
We can judiciously share our teaching tactics, especially with junior colleagues. I can’t count how many tips and tricks I’ve learned that were whispered to me by a colleague who locked the door and lowered the blinds first. I’ve had administrators email, “That is NOT allowed,” only to knock on my door immediately to share with me what they weren’t willing to put into writing. (I’m forever indebted to those brave souls.)
When we have strategies that save us time and energy, we can defend our rest and care. We can resist the relentless capitalistic machinery of academia. We can reclaim more of our time for joy.
Here are three things that have been giving me joy lately:
- I stumbled across the podcast Dr. Death over this past weekend and I binged all three seasons in two days. I don’t normally listen to true crime but this series is so compelling, tracing the stories of three superstar doctors who sacrificed lives for profit and glory. One of the most chilling aspects of the stories was the institutions that ignored or silenced whistleblowers to protect powerful figures.
- I recently read The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker on the recommendation of my friend, Jenn Schindel. Whether you’re organizing a dinner party or teaching a class, this book offers guiding questions and examples to inspire.
- I picked up the Literary Witches Oracle Deck a few weeks ago. It features 30 visionary women, hauntingly illustrated by Katy Horan.
Instead of my usual tarot reading, I’m drawing a ‘literary witch’ from the oracle deck to herald this new lunar cycle:
“Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860–1935) is best known for The Yellow Wall-Paper, a story inspired by the disastrous, sexist ‘rest cure’ prescribed for her postpartum depression. In her day, Gilman was also famous as a social critic, giving popular lectures on economic and social reform, and for her unconventional life choices. Her utopian novels and nonfiction are worth revisiting for their visions of a cooperative society and the place of gender roles in economics.”
Excerpt from the accompanying book by Taisia Kitaiskaia
In this oracle deck, Gilman represents freedom; recognizing the oppressive systems at work as well as what is necessary to break free from them. I’d be remiss not to mention Gilman’s racist views, which for me is a reminder to keep learning and not feel too smug about my politics (which will probably be terribly backward in 100 years’ time).
In solidarity and love,