The tweet-able version
I’m claiming my education in order to reclaim it. #undisciplined #lifebesidestheacademy #stayintrouble
The academic soundbite version
As I encountered more feminist and queer pedagogies, started developing a pedagogy based on not knowing and unlearning and began experimenting with troublemaking practices online, my teaching practices mutated and I came to doubt how feminist/queer pedagogical practices were possible within the University and whether or not there was room for my teaching methods there. So I left the academy and carved out a beside/s space where I could imagine and experiment with a troubling and undisciplining way of being an educator.
The “even though I always try to avoid redemption narratives, I couldn’t help but think about my own experiences through that lens because I am my father’s daughter and I was raised to need redemption” version, also the “three is a magic number” version
Claiming my education, by taking it seriously, paying attention to it and then allowing it to transform my practices and understandings of myself as an educator, enabled me to reclaim my passion for it and to stake a claim for a space beside/s the academy where I could imagine and practice new ways of being an educator.
The “what can you do with a degree in women’s studies? This.” version
What could it mean to be an educator? How and where is it possible? What could an education at this moment in the 21st century be for? And where do I fit into this conversation? My training and teaching in gender and women’s studies has given me the tools, the desire, the courage, and the curiosity to not only ask these questions but to feel their force and to experiment with responding to them.
The “these are the questions that haunt me as I reflect on education and try to reimagine myself as a teacher” version
- Am I still a teacher? Do I want to be one? (Where) can I be one?
- Was I too irresponsible as a teacher?
- Do teachers have to be experts?
- Does the academy turn everyone into assholes?
- Is higher education too broken? Too expensive? Too out-dated? Too exploitative?
- What do I tell or advise my kids about higher education?
- Was it a mistake to run away from the academy?
- Is it possible to reclaim education as a practice of freedom?
- Who is an education for? What is an education for?
The “as I reflect on my teaching practices, especially my emphasis on discomfort, uncertainty, unlearning and staying in trouble, I am also thinking about students, and one of my kids, who have anxiety and always already experience a lot of uncertainty and “trouble” and I wonder if my pedagogy (and my parenting) is irresponsible” version
To be written.
It’s not the U, it’s me, the “actually it was you, the U” version
As I became more invested in encouraging unlearning, not-knowing, troublemaking and being curious in my classes and as I become more convinced that one of the most effective ways in which to do these things was in hybrid, online/offline spaces, I became less certain that my approaches were possible within traditional academic learning environments. The limitations of the physical classroom. The over-emphasis on learning as acquiring knowledge and skills for getting a job. The dismissal of online writing and engagement as lacking rigor. And the relentless push to increase class size, where students were reduced to “butts in seats.” Were these factors too much for these practices? What could discomfort and unlearning look like in an auditorium-sized classroom of students-as-numbers and how could that size be managed online?
Perhaps more than any other factor, the push for larger classes, pushed me to my limits, forcing me to confront a painful realization that my feminist/queer pedagogy of troublemaking and trouble staying was leading me to, but that I was ignoring: my approach to education and being an educator, which required small classes for my experiments in hybrid community, didn’t seem to have a place in the academy.
It’s not the U, it’s me, the “no really, it was me” version
To be written. In this version, I discuss my own challenges and why I was never really meant to be an academic.
How I stopped teaching, the “I had no choice” version
I left academic teaching at the end of the 2011 fall semester. I had no choice. My temporary assistant professor contract, which had already been extended by a semester, was done. And I had been applying for full-time jobs, both tenure-track and visiting appointments for six years with very little success. A few on- campus interviews. One job offer for a three year position that I couldn’t accept. The job market was bleak and, with my family well-established in Minneapolis, I wasn’t willing to move anywhere in the country for a teaching job.
How I stopped teaching, the “it was my choice” version
At the end of the 2010-2011 academic year, I informed my chair that, even if was possible, I didn’t want to renew my contract. I was ready to be done teaching at the University. And, after applying for one last position in early 2012, I stopped looking and applying for academic jobs.
What happened after I left, the running away version
Towards the end of teaching, around the spring of 2011, I was struggling physically and emotionally. Almost six years of living in an unhealthy environment where I was made to feel less worthy and encouraged to think too much and too critically, and to prioritize, above everything else, my academic work, had weakened me physically and emotionally. I managed to teach for one more semester, but even though I really enjoyed my last two classes, I was so drained by being at the University, that when I finished that December, I never returned. I had arranged to be a visiting scholar in the department, but I could not force myself to go back on campus. It was too painful. The first time I recall actually returning was several years later with my family. After riding on the train that went straight to the U, we decided to walk around the campus. It was very hard for me to do. I was surprised by how much it felt similar to the waves of grief for my dead mother that would overwhelm me on her birthday, mother’s day, or the day that she died.
I ran away from the academy. Sometimes I wonder if that was the most responsible or smartest thing to do. I’m not sure. What I do know is that it felt necessary. I could not make myself return. I had to run away.
In the years since leaving the academy, the act of running has taken on a different meaning. I started running in June of 2011, the summer before my final semester of teaching. Slowly I trained enough to run in a 5k race. Then I kept training. I’ve been running for almost six years now.
I was reminded of this second meaning of running after finding an old Instagram photo of me, hamming it up right before a 5k race (my second 5k ever) in July of 2012. I look happy and goofy and strong. Would this picture have been possible if I hadn’t ran away from the academy in 2011?