Am I a Teacher?

When I first entered the classroom as a teacher in the spring of 2000, I felt like I had discovered who I really was. I was a teacher! So many of my quirks—my love of sharing ideas with others and experimenting with new ways of understanding, my ability to remember, recount, and connect random stories, my inclination to help others make sense of our worlds—had a place in the classroom.

I loved teaching. Prepping classes. Writing syllabi. Envisioning course assignments. Talking with and learning from students. Reading and teaching about pedagogy. Experimenting with new ways of engaging. Even when it was grueling and exhausting, it was energizing and fulfilling.

But something happened. Teaching became increasingly difficult as I struggled to find a balance between it and parenting, researching, writing, living, and grieving for a dying mother. Then it became painful as I encountered overwhelmed students made apathetic and uncurious by an institution that belittled and ignored them and their needs, confronted overly bureaucratic learning environments that made it extremely difficult to experiment with new ways of teaching and learning, or to be a caring educator, and endured arrogant asshole academics who were too invested in their status as fancy Experts and too busy policing what counts as rigorous scholarship to engage in meaningful conversations about pedagogy and teaching. Finally, University teaching became unbearable as I realized that it was bad for me. It was harming my health, putting too much strain on my relationships, and crushing my creative spirit.

On December 13, 2011, after almost six years of teaching, I taught my final class. I was done being a teacher at the University (and maybe forever). Instead of sadness, I felt relief and excitement. I could finally spend time on the projects inspired by my research and teaching that I wanted to do, but had never had time for. Maybe I wouldn’t have the status—or the paycheck, benefits, and access to academic journals—of a “Professor,” but I’d have the freedom to explore new ways of being a thinking, feeling, troublemaking, educating and educated self.

Since the beginning of 2012, I’ve used that freedom to learn new things, like how to code and design my virtual spaces and how to craft and publish online stories. I’ve also used it to explore how to practice the things that I’d already learned, from two decades of training and teaching in feminist/critical/ethical/queer theories and pedagogies, in new ways.

Now, with some time and distance, I’m revisiting my teaching. Why? Partly to take seriously my experiences as a teacher by giving them attention. Documenting what and how I taught. Collecting old syllabi, in-class exercises, assignments, class summaries, notes, handouts, and other teaching-related materials. Archiving and processing them in order to think through my pedagogy and how it does or doesn’t fit with my current practices and approaches to making and staying in trouble.

I’m also revisiting my teaching materials/life in order to think deeply about what teaching has meant and might still mean to me. To take on the questions of doubt and uncertainty that haunt me about my relationship to the academy and my abilities as a teacher. And then to stay in the trouble that taking on those questions generates.

Am I still a teacher even though I haven’t formally taught since fall 2011? Do I want to be a teacher?

As I continue to review my archive and writing about it, my questions are shifting and expanding. I’m wondering: If I am still a teacher, what are my teaching methods, and are they possible within the academy? What other spaces can I imagine or cultivate for teaching? What does it mean to be a teacher? What do teachers do? What is their relationship to their students? To the institutions where they teach? What is an education for? Who is an education for?

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