Teacher Burnout is Real. But Not Because of the Students.

I’m so glad the semester is over. Yes, I have the usual complaints about too much grading, sickly students, and overall fatigue. But this year, this fall, my gratitude for a winter break has more to do with my emotional well-being than my physical.

My soul is tired.

Like many campuses around the nation, my college was not immune to racial tension, student protests, and faculty ignorance. In fact, because we are such a small campus (only 2200 undergrads and approximately 180 faculty), these issues felt exponentially larger than they might have felt at my graduate alma mater, Vanderbilt University.

On small campuses, the few people of color (student, staff, administration, and faculty) are highly visible. I can’t hide in my office. I can’t pretend to not know what’s happening on campus. I can’t feign ignorance of students’ emotional responses to hate speech because it would be more convenient for my professional and personal life if I didn’t have to engage such complex issues.

I’m not saying I would choose those things if I could, but it sure would be nice to have a choice. Instead, I am forced to engage in the following types of conversations with white colleagues repeatedly:

I am on the Diversity and Equity Advisory Board this year. It’s my official committee assignment (which I chose after not winning enough faculty votes to be on our governing board or our curriculum committee). The work of the DEAB is still a bit nebulous, but one thing that is not included is educating my fellow committee members about why issues of diversity matter to everyone and should be included in our “strategic plans”.

The chair of this committee is a white woman (not from the US) who’s been at the college for over 10 years. She is in the math department so in my naïve estimation, as a minority in her discipline I thought she’d have a better understanding of what our committee should actually be doing. I was wrong.

To her credit, she asked to meet with me to get my perspective on just that. I told her that we need to focus on structural issues related to inequities. I told her we need to create some standardization across departments in faculty hiring practices, diverse curricular design, and inclusive pedagogies. She blinked at me and said something akin to “well, people don’t want to be challenged. They don’t want to be asked to change how they’ve done things for years. They don’t want their identities threatened.’

I get it. I promise I do. But in that moment I wanted to scream.

I had to clarify for her that that is the problem here: people perceive issues of diversity as threatening to their white identities. That is what we have to help the faculty overcome. That is why they are hesitant to even engage in conversations about hiring diverse faculty (nonetheless actually hire some). That is why students put forth a petition to diversify the curriculum so more than Western, Christian, white male perspectives are studied. That is why I have students crying in my office when their professor refuses to learn their names and when they finally do, say things like ‘what a cool name! Your people have the coolest names!!!’

*Deep breath*

Again, to her credit, she looked as if she had an epiphany. Then she said that math and natural science professors have an additional hurdle because issues of diversity “don’t fit” into their content. I told her that as a content expert it is her responsibility to spend 20 minutes thinking about how she can integrate diverse perspectives into her curriculum. She admitted that she hadn’t tried to integrate; but she had tried to add in conversations about diversity. I told her that forcing students to read current events and having conversations about racism was a good first step, but that disconnecting it from course content reinforces the idea that these issues are ad hoc. That thinking and talking about marginalized people can come after you’ve done the ‘serious work’ of learning about limit functions.

She pledged to try harder. I appreciated that.

But then she did the one thing to which I’ve yet to develop a response: she asked to have more conversations with me about these issues because she wants to learn more.

Le sigh.

She quickly followed that request with a sincere acknowledgement that it was not my job to teach her and that I clearly have enough on my plate (she’d been reading about the burden faculty of color have with mentoring students and serving on every committee as the diversity representative).

I assured her that if she wanted to brainstorm ideas for inclusive pedagogy, I would be happy to help. But I left her office worn out, a bit angry, and a whole lot frustrated.

I was not and am not angry with her. I am actually happy she had the courage to have this conversation, admit her shortcomings, and ask for help. This is, after all, what I encourage my students to do in their learning processes.

But for the first time ever, I’m tired of being the teacher.

Like my colleague said in response to student requests to include diverse perspectives in courses: “When will it stop? When will they stop wanting me to cover everything?”

The F-Word and Its Importance to Learning

Let me be clear before I begin: this is not a post where I bash students. This is a post where I express my befuddlement of student decision-making.

Some context: I teach a 300-level Educational Psychology course. It is required for the major and minor in Education and counts toward the Psychology major and minor. It is designed to be taken after 2 foundational education courses and one in-school practicum. I’ve taught this class (and a more rigorous version of it for graduate students) approximately 14-17 times over the last 3 academic years. It is indeed the course I teach most often. It is therefore the course for which I’ve received the most course evaluations. My average rating for this class is a 4.6 out of 5 (my average for other courses that aren’t as content heavy is a 4.9 out of 5).

The course is usually at capacity with a small wait list. I often have 25 students in the class, save the last two times I taught it where I had about 17 students in each class. The mean and median grade in the course is always a B+…except for the last two times I taught it. These last two experiences were also different than the prior 12-15 experiences because sophomores (as opposed to juniors) constituted the majority of the student demographic.

Educational Psychology, like most of my courses, is all about skill development. Thinking skills and writing skills. More specifically, it is about interpreting the content and expressing your interpretation in a comprehensible and supported fashion. My tag line for the course is “If you sell it, I can buy it.” The students come to understand that all I want them to do is adequately defend their beliefs. This involves a high level of metacognitive thinking, reasoning, analysis, and synthesis. It is the final two that trip them up. Students are so used to summarizing and describing, they have little experience with analyzing and synthesizing. They have been asked to share their opinions often, but they have not been asked to justify them in a scholarly manner. I therefore repeat the following phrase many times throughout the course: “I don’t care what you think. I care why you think it”.

The assessments of the course are designed to measure their increasing cognitive skills. They are required to write reflections on course readings 5 times during the course (they choose which times) within which they synthesize 2 readings. The syllabus clearly states that these reflections are not a place to give their opinions of the readings. On the contrary, they are a place where they should discuss why  different theories [mis]align with one another. They have a hard time differentiating this from comparing and contrasting. The reflections total 10% of their final grade.

Other assessments include a 2-day/4 hour classroom observation of another college course where students must figure out how theories translate to pedagogical practice. They are asked to identify where they see theories ‘in action’ and analyze why a professor makes the pedagogical decisions they do. This assignment is worth 25% of their grade and occurs two thirds of the way through the course.

Students are also alphabetically assigned to a small group (2-3) that presents an assigned reading for the day. The readings are theoretical reviews and are as short as 4 pages. Presentations last 45 minutes. This assignment is worth 10% of their grade and is the assignment on which they do the best.

There is a final essay and a final exam for the course, each worth 25% of their grade. The essay is a persuasive essay in which students must advocate for or against a particular learning theory for a specific age group based upon their developmental capabilities. They are required to support their argument with 2 empirical articles. It is a 5-7 page paper due on the last day of class.

The final exam is short essay (1 page per question) and contains 10 questions, each with different point values. Students are to choose 4 questions to answer. If they choose the four lowest valued questions and get them correct, their maximum score is 50 points or a letter grade of C. If they choose the four most difficult questions and get them right, their maximum score is 100 or a letter grade of A. They have 4 hours to take the closed-note exam. It is designed to be done in 1 hour.

Phew. I say all of that because it is necessary context to understand the purpose of this post. This most recent time I taught the course, I had 4 students drop the class. Now, two of them dropped for medical reasons and went home for the remainder of the term. One dropped one third of the way through the course because he was failing and decided he didn’t need the class for his minor and saw no reason to get a low grade when it was unnecessary. A fourth dropped 85% of the way through the course because she didn’t want the low grade to lower her GPA. She plans to retake the class next fall. Two more students came to my office to tell me they too were considering dropping the course, but I managed to put the course in perspective and they stayed enrolled.

What is stunning to me in this scenario are two things: 1) students even considering dropping a course as a viable academic option and 2) students dropping a course when they still have 55-65% of their grade unaccounted for.

I know many people will read this and say it is my fault as the teacher that students are dropping. I disagree both on a personal level but more so on a pedagogical level. I contacted the students two months before the course began, shared the syllabus and communicated the level of rigor of a 300-level course, especially for sophomores. I shared with them my focus on skills, not content. I gave tips for how to prepare for the course. I provided all rubrics for all assignments before the course even began. Most of all, I gave clear instructions in a multiple of ways, many times. I answered every email inquiry within 12 hours and met with students before and after class to help craft outlines for assignments and to provide tips on how to read course texts. I also give extensive feedback on all assignments.

All teachers want their students to do well and I am no different. But I also want my students to progress and actually acquire some skills they didn’t have before my course. I am less concerned with their final grade and more concerned with their final cognitive state. I monitor their progression via their reflections and pop quizzes (which 50% of do not count against students). I attend to their comments in class and their questions. I alter my daily lesson plans to address the gaps I see in their reflections.

I am therefore stunned when a student comes to me expressing a desire to withdraw from a course before they’ve given themselves a chance to develop. This is especially ironic in a course about the learning process. While they clearly articulate their need to develop self-regulatory learning strategies, they are so in fear of failure, they do not give themselves that opportunity. It would’ve never occurred to me to drop a class in college. Once I was enrolled, I was committed. If I was not doing well in a course, I redoubled my efforts and if that didn’t work (and trust me, there were times it didn’t), I reconciled myself with the fact that I was not going to receive an A, A- or B+. While I of course blamed the professor for their alleged poor teaching/poor instructions/lack of feedback, it never occurred to me to do anything other than complete the course.

I certainly would not drop a course when 2/3 of my points were still available. I like to think I have more confidence in myself than to quit 30% of the way into a process. But then again, I’ve always viewed learning as a process. I am not sure my students view it the same way.

A process involves change over time. It requires adaption and reflexivity. A process is concerned with growth instead of the outcome. While I kept a keen eye on my GPA, I always measured my success by how much I determined I’d learned. And my learning was not restricted to content. In most cases, it was learning about my strengths and weaknesses as a student. I developed strategies and coping mechanisms when the content was a bit beyond me (hello, statistics!). If I ended up with a B- in a course (what’s up, Intro Psych?!?!), I was proud of myself for figuring out how to get that grade instead of the C- I might have earned if I didn’t adjust my study skills.

There has been a lot of chatter circling social media about the value of failure. Indeed, in my Ed Psych course we spend time discussing that very matter within the context of fixed versus growth mindsets and self-regulatory learning. We address it again during our discussion of motivation and self-efficacy. The students understand the importance of experiencing failure to cognitive growth. But they have a hard time feeling it.

While only 1 student has ever truly failed this course (students view a B- or C as failing), I don’t want to be the professor who facilitates this type of experiential learning, but I see the value in it. Failure is where you experience growth. It is when you assess your decisions and their effect on the outcomes. It is when you learn how and of whom to ask questions. It is when you force yourself to be honest about who you are and what you are capable of doing. One must go through failure to develop the skills to get passed it.

I am concerned we’ve established a system that facilitates students walking around it.

My Journey in Teaching #BlackLifeMatters- Day 3

Almost every Blackademic I know is figuring out how to address the reality that #BlackLifeMatters. Some are participating in local protests. Others are writing their political representatives. I am doing what I do best–teach.

I am currently teaching a course entitled The Tradition of African American Education and the Black Bourgeoisie. While the title is long, it really embodies what I am attempting to do in this course. First, I want students to understand that education and schooling can and do look differently to different people. Second, I want them to recognize the purpose of schooling as determined by those for whom the school exists. Third, I want them to learn the history of education as dismissive, segregated, and unequitable. Finally, I hope they leave this course knowing that our current educational system insists on dividing people based upon social characteristics, and that sometimes, that division is positive.

But I couldn’t do all of that without giving students historical and contemporary context, hence the inclusion of the Black Bourgeoisie. When it comes down to it, the Black Bourgeoisie was borne in concert with Historically Black Colleges and Universities because in the mid to late 1800s, one could not exist without the other. In fact, in the beginning, the Black Bourgeoisie defined themselves by their level of education and consequent professions. HBCUs in turn, defined themselves by the success of their alumni. For many decades it was a symbiotic relationship.

And then came desegregation. I wrote a piece a while back that referenced what happened to the Black teacher work force when schools became desegregated. More than decimating the work force, desegregation whitened Black children’s education. Not only did Black children rarely see a Black or Brown face in their schools, they never saw themselves represented in their textbooks. The history of Black life was erased with the bang of a gavel. And we still haven’t fully rewritten the tale.

But HBCUs remain storehouses of the Black narrative. There is where you find murals painted by Black hands; words written by Black authors; pictures taken of Black faces; conversations borne of the Black experience. HBCUs are where we find the history policies and people tried to take from us.

So I decided to conduct my course off-campus, AT a Historically Black College or University. Fortunately, many members of my family attended HBCUs, my father works with HBCUs through his small business, and about half of my friends claim HBCUs. I therefore was able to make an informed decision about the best place for my students to engage Black history and Black life:  Fisk University.

If you’ve never heard of this school, do yourself a favor and look it up. If you are nodding your head affirming my choice of Fisk, I am nodding back at you. In only 72 hours, my students have experienced more than I can give them in a traditional on-campus course. We are living in Fisk dorms (yes, me too). We are eating in Fisk’s dining hall. We are attending Fisk events. We are visiting Fisk classes. We are meeting Fisk people.

But that isn’t enough.

My students are also spending time at Tennessee State University. I wanted to create a multi-perspective course so I was fortunate that TSU and Fisk are neighbors, and that both were willing to partner with me in this endeavor. While we live at Fisk, we will be taking classes, sitting in on club meetings, and attending other events at Tennessee State University as well. My students have Fisk and TSU student hosts whose academic and extracurricular schedules they will follow for two weeks.

Another week of the course is spent in coursework with me. We began this morning by participating in the annual MLK march in Nashville. Tomorrow is when we start to review texts by E. Franklin Frazier, Carter Woodson, and Lawrence Otis Graham. Class also includes heading 3 hours west to Memphis to visit the Civil Rights Museum before spending the following day at the public library in the Civil Rights Room. My class is where they will be held accountable for the synthesis of experience with content. After class is when I treat them to lunch or dinner at a variety of restaurants, all serving soul food.

I have no idea how this is going to go. I can tell you that it’s 9:09pm on Day 3 and I am exhausted. We are settling in, making friends, and preparing for what should be a life changing experience. Just as all learning should be.

The Pitfalls and Privilege of Pass/Fail

I’ve never left a faculty meeting more incensed than I did today. For over 2 hours, the faculty body at my College nitpicked over the smallest things such as the presence or absence of 1 additional faculty member on the College writing committee/international programs committee/advancement committee/honor council. The primary reason for these amendments to a 1-year piloted proposal was that faculty should not risk losing their voice. What’s more is that we must ensure that every academic division has equal voice in these committees. God forbid the staff or even worse, the students, have more to say than us. For that reason, we must invoke 2 hours of conversation about 5 faculty slots on 4 College committees.

I stayed through those tedious conversations and did not actually get upset until the final bullet point on the agenda: should students be limited to 6 Pass/Fail courses?

pass fail

Now let’s take first things first. I have NO IDEA why students are allowed to take more than ONE course pass/fail. Who goes to college and doesn’t want to be assessed? But I will get to that in a second. Two primary arguments in support of UNLIMITED pass/fail were: a) what if the student is experiencing mental or physical health issues and can’t meet course requirements? b) it encourages students to explore different academic disciplines without the risk of a low grade affecting their GPA.

EXCUSE ME?????  As a psychologist, I am appalled we think we should encourage students with proven mental or physical illness to remain in college instead of taking a medical leave of absence and focusing on their health. This type of implicit expectation makes students who do choose to prioritize their health feel lesser than students who ‘tough it out’. As a result, we’ve seen the increase of college students with mental health diagnoses—especially anxiety disorders—rapidly increase over the last few years. We’ve consequently seen an increase in suicides and suicide attempts. We are so heavily invested in the culture of achievement that we are telling students to ignore their health needs and to help you do so, we will lower the standards for you just so you can ‘pass’ this course.

And yes. Taking a course pass/fail is indeed lowering the standards for that student. We are in essence saying that if you master 60% of the content (or 65%–whatever the cut off is for a D), that is good enough for you to receive college credit toward a Bachelor’s degree. In what vocation are you allowed to do just 60% of your job duties and still receive a pay check? What teacher begins a course hoping that students get 60% of the content? In what world is 60% proficiency acceptable?

I will tell you what world: the world of the privileged. The world where there is a perpetual and unyielding safety net. The world where there are no consequences associated with any decisions because someone else is there to either mitigate risk or assume it for them. Coming to college is in itself a risky decision. You are moving away from your family and your home and striking out on a new adventure full of social, emotional and academic challenges. Every course for which students sign up is a risk. No one but the professor knows the demands of that course and what it will take to be successful. It is not the faculty’s job to mitigate student risk. It is our job to ensure we provide them with the tools necessary to manage risk. If you enroll in Organic Chemistry because you were awesome in chemistry in high school, then you are knowingly making a decision to enroll in a course in which you may not earn an A. You are not entitled to an A. It is not my job to give you an A. You earn what you earn. And if you earn a D, deal with the consequences of it.

My next concern is with the cognitive concomitants of pass/fail. Any educational or social psychologist familiar with role theory understands the importance of expectations and accountability in the construction of a role. The message we are sending with unlimited pass/fails is that we don’t expect much of you in your role of student and we will in fact, give you the same reward for taking this course as someone who is being evaluated and held to higher standards. We are therefore failing to properly teach the rights, duties, obligations, and expectations of their social role in a college context. Empirical research suggests that being held accountable for one’s role behaviors is correlated with higher effort, higher intrinsic motivation to learn, an incremental view of intelligence, and more collaborative behaviors. To say it more simply, when students are not held accountable, they don’t invest in their learning. And for a school charging 55k a year, we are certainly encouraging a financial investment.

Lastly, the driving force behind my outrage is how this particular policy disadvantages marginalized groups lacking the social capital to effectively use it. Students who take a lot of courses pass/fail are those who don’t understand the long term consequences of a transcript with 4 courses without grades. Students from highly educated families have parents who tell them the pitfalls of not having a GPA or not being able to represent your competency through course grades. Students from families whose parents may not have attended college, who don’t know how higher education functions, or who’ve never had to produce an academic transcript for employment do not automatically know how to effectively use pass/fail options. When students come to me proposing to take a course pass/fail, I am sure to ask the following questions: How can a prospective employer evaluate your job readiness when all you have is a listing of courses with credit allocations beside it? How do they know your differential proficiencies in the discipline when your 200 level courses have the same outcome as your 400 level courses?  How will you be able to relay your achievement when a 90% is being interpreted as a 60%?

What’s more is the social perception of students who take classes pass/fail. I strongly believe that marginalized students enacting this option will be viewed differently than wealthy and/or white and/or legacy students doing the same. If I, as a 20 year old black girl, presented a transcript to prospective PhD programs with a lot of pass/fail courses, I would have been perceived as not having confidence in my abilities, not having a strong skill set, or afraid of failure. My white friends on the other hand would be perceived as academically venturesome, courageous, and smart in their decision to mitigate risk.

I was outraged that this dichotomy was not voiced at the faculty meeting. Where was the representation of marginalized students’ voices? Where were the faculty speaking on behalf of the students who are in my office in tears saying ‘I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to take courses pass/fail’? Faculty were instead concerned with ‘punishing’ students for taking a course outside of their comfort zone. They were also concerned with ‘students who are managing anxiety issues and wouldn’t be allowed to count a pass/fail course in their graduation credits’. Or my favorite, ‘the logistics of how much work it will take to track how many pass/fail courses a student has taken.’

At this point it is natural for you to wonder why I did not stand up and say these very things. I was close. So close, I did stand up. So close that a senior colleague sitting behind me asked what I was going to say and then suggested I ‘not say anything because this really only affects about 5% of the student body who actually take 8 or more courses pass/fail.’

Translation: those 5% are not worth this discussion.

That sentiment is what caused me to walk out. Her comment reinforced what I already knew to be true: anything I said would fall on deaf ears. If there is one thing I’ve learned in 3 years of these meetings is that voices are only heard when people consent to listen.

 

Within the Ivory Towers: Managing Grief in Academia

I don’t really know how to start this post but I certainly feel the need to write it. Yesterday I learned that one of my best friends since the age of 13 passed away. He was one of those people who was just good. Better. And he never got a fair shot in life. He had been ill for quite some time, so while his passing is not a surprise, the sadness is the same.

It’s a similar sadness to what I felt when my grandfather passed away during my first semester of graduate school. I was not able to attend his funeral because there was a snow storm and my flight was canceled. My current state is a lightweight version of the extremely deep pain I felt (and continue to feel) when my brother passed during my fourth year of graduate school.

Friends and colleagues of mine have experienced similar grief, but I’m always particularly aware of grief when it happens within the rigid walls of academia.

To make a long story short, there is no space for grief in academia. With every loss, I felt a simultaneous anxiety around having to step away from my 1st year project, dissertation research, and first day of class. Some might say that I am using my work to distract from my grief and perhaps yes, that is true to an extent. But when I examine my pain more intensively, I know I am not avoiding my grief; I am saving it for after work hours. I also know that this pattern is in part, my need to continue forward because if I pause to cry at my desk, my sadness will overwhelm me.

I cannot afford that.

I cannot afford to appear weak. In graduate school, it was about proving my worth. I did not want my advisor or my committee to think I didn’t have the fortitude to do what needed to be done. One sign of weakness could be my exit point off the PhD highway. It may sound dramatic but it’s not. PhD students fight continuously for respect from faculty and sometimes, one another. I was a 21 year old first year PhD student who was accepted into the top program in the field on her first try straight out of undergrad. I was rare. I was black. And all eyes were on me.

While I did not share my grandfather’s passing with anyone in my program, I could not help but share my brother’s death. That grief could not be hidden so I had no choice but to leave for a bit. And I do mean a bit. I went home for about 5 days and then took a pre-planned vacation to Miami for 4 days. After that, I was back on the grind. I told myself it’s what my brother would’ve wanted (which is true. He wasn’t one for wallowing in things you can’t control), but it was more because I knew I couldn’t lose ground in my program.

The department knew what I was going through yet not a single person besides my advisor offered even a word of condolence. I was told they would send flowers to his funeral. They did not. I was not offered extensions on looming deadlines, nor did I receive an email of sympathy or even a clichéd line of encouragement. I was given nothing.

At 24 years old, struggling to complete a PhD I wasn’t sure I wanted anymore, I didn’t have the emotional strength to fight that battle. I accepted their behaviors as par for the course and used it to strengthen my resolve to get the hell out of there ASAP. And I promised myself that if I ever became a professor, I would never treat my students or colleagues that way.

But ‘that way’ is the norm. As a faculty member now, I see colleagues experience grief and for the most part, they too suck it up and come to work as if nothing was amiss. Those rare few who take some time off are whispered about at faculty meetings. Words like ‘dramatic’ and ‘depressed’ and ‘absent’ are complemented by expressions of disdain and scorn. How dare they not be at the meeting? It’s been a month since his son died! It’s been THREE months since her partner died!! They should be back by now!!!

My campus has experienced a lot of loss in the last few months. Students and colleagues leaving Earth far too soon has made everyone emotionally vigilant. And while academia encourages us to create a student experience that engenders the happily educated image of a coed, the same cannot be said for faculty. While we create task forces to deal with ‘campus issues’ and hire third party firms to conduct research on the ‘campus climate’, where are the support groups, counseling sessions, and offers of leave for faculty? I cannot even request these things without appearing to be some depressed weirdo who can’t handle the challenges life throws because that is the culture of academia.

We academics are tough. We are committed. We are expected to approach our personal lives in the same informed and educated fashion we approach our profession. We should be well versed in grief and ensure we move through those stages properly—in our own time.

The divide between who I am as a human and who I am expected to be as a professor is awful. It makes me feel ashamed of the two tears that escape my guard and splash onto my desk. It makes me feel awkward when friends ask me if I’m okay and if they can give me a hug. My mind is saying ‘I shouldn’t need a hug’, but my heart is saying ‘yes, please’.

So to those who’ve offered hugs, sent emails, delivered a clichéd message of support, surreptitiously squeezed my hand, called, and made me laugh when all I wanted to do was cry, thank you. You make it possible for me to get out of bed and go to work and be the scholar academia forces me to be.

grief

 

 

 

 

Overworking Single, Childless Women: The Burden of Not Having a Family

At least once a week I read an article or overhear a conversation about the difficulty women have balancing work and home. Especially since Sheryl Sandberg urged women to Lean In and take on more responsibilities, the professional world is overrun with rebuttals, critiques, and demands for corporate restructuring to better accommodate the overwhelming demands of the working mother.

Great. I’m with it.women vs women

But where are the conversations about the women who’ve chosen not to get married or have children? Where is the outrage on behalf of the women who are expected to work longer hours, attend evening and weekend events, and be ‘flexible’ in their work schedule because they don’t have ‘pressing obligations’ outside of work?

In 4 days I was twice reminded that I do not have a partner or children. I was reminded of this after having to tell colleagues that I require at least 2 day notice when scheduling meetings. In other words, you cannot ask for a meeting 20 hours before the proposed meeting day and time. I have a schedule. And I’ve scheduled my workload such that I have specific afternoons dedicated to meetings and specific days where I have the option of not going into the office.

When I mentioned this request for earlier notice, the response was ‘Oh! Well I figured you’d be in the office, but I guess you could be getting things settled with your new house…’

First off, leaving that sentence dangling does not prompt me to tell you what I’m doing when I’m not in my office. You are not entitled to my personal life, nor are you positioned to oversee my work schedule. Second, is my new house the only acceptable reason in your eyes for me to not be working in the office? What of other aspects of my life?  Third, even if I was planning to be in my office, I could have a host of other things scheduled for that time slot. And no, I am not rearranging other meetings or tasks to accommodate your last minute request.

It is amazing that my colleagues find it perfectly acceptable and not at all unprofessional to leave work or completely miss work for the following: impromptu long weekend, breakfast/lunch with partner, reading to their child’s class, meeting with their child’s teacher, taking their child to the doctor, taking their child on College visits, taking their child to meet with a college counselor, staying home with their child because they have a snow day/holiday/teacher workday, taking child to school/picking child up from school.(what happened to baby sitters? The school schedule is released at the beginning of the school year. You knew there would be a teacher workday and winter break and spring break. You also know what time school starts and ends every day) While I recognize that children get sick and schools close, these things don’t happen every 8 business days. There are some who invoke one of these reasons at least once every two weeks (and sometimes multiple days in a row), thus making it standard practice, not an exception or outlier or odd occurrence.  And when things just happen (because they do), everyone should be able to meet the obligations of life outside of work—not just those whose obligations involve children.

No one EVER challenges these emails (often sent the morning of), but I am passively critiqued for working from home, for being out of the office to conduct research at schools, or basically, for not keeping my schedule open in the off chance they want to meet with me. I mean, what else could I be doing…since I don’t have kids? Not having a spouse or children does not mean I don’t have a personal life.

I am sick of it. My choice to structure my life the way I want is just that—MY CHOICE. If I choose to work from home/a coffee shop/Santa’s workshop, it should not matter. I am exceeding my job expectations even though you can’t see me working. But more importantly, the absence of immediate family does not necessitate the presence of more work. While I certainly believe in equity, the expectations of my work should not be higher than those who’ve made different life choices. My choices will not be subjugated to yours. Just as you should not have to struggle to find a work-home balance, I should not have to struggle to balance my job responsibilities in the context of yours.

The Politicization of Pedagogy

This is not make-believe, or as we used to say, for play-play.

I teach real shit to real students in a real classroom. My classroom is a battleground. I talk about issues of stratification, marginalization and subjugation. We read about access and opportunity so students might recognize that the latter cannot exist without the former. We watch documentaries depicting the ‘other’ so that students can use the social as a mirror for the self. I push them to contextualize their experience through the lens of someone else with hopes that tolerance turns to understanding.purpose of education

This is real life.

This is my life. My presence is political.

I am a twenty-something single, childless black woman in a space never meant to be my own. Questions about hiring processes, affirmative action, targeted opportunities and other banal phrases meant to ask ‘what the f*** is she doing here?’ Well I got news for you. Celie said it first: “Dear God, I’m here!” I made it. I played the game. I earned the right to sit at the table.

My journey was political.

I befriended whom I needed and smiled at just the right time. I laughed at lame jokes and cried when no one was looking. I asked for help when I knew I needed it but was certain not to appear unable. I wrote three drafts but told you I freestyled it because you needed to be impressed. I gave you that. And you gave me…

My body is political. And you made that so. My afro, mocha skin, thin frame, thick lips, tall stature, wide nose…I carry all that into the classroom. Proudly.

This is my positionality. I come from NorthEast where I pushed kids off slides, broke glass bottles over heads and pulled knives on uncles. Did I mention this was before age 7? I skipped gifted and talented because it bored me, but I was smart enough to fall in love with Langston Hughes and learn that life is not a crystal stair. I fought for position at school, on the street, in the house.

My knowledge is political. I understand content to the extent I’ve experienced it. I read and write and talk and write and laugh and think…that I will never get a handle on the interrelatedness of life. I cannot choose when to enact the parts of me that best fit the theory currently in question. I cannot ignore that I am a walking contradiction, an oxymoron of educated black or smart woman or eloquent southerner. All I know I live.

This is real to me. I make it real for them.

So yeah, my pedagogy is political.