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But what about when…. [Critical Pedagogy]

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I have this vision in my head of the teacher I want to be.

I want to have the courage to love my students, as Darder encourages.

I want to be a role model and a create a climate of respect, as Freire wants me to do.

Freire writes, “The climate of respect that is born of just, serious, humble, and generous relationships, in which both the authority of the teacher and the freedom of the students are ethically grounded, is what coverts pedagogical space into authentic educational experience.”

That’s the kind of vision I have in my head when I start every class.

And then…

No one did the reading.

Only 5 people have their camera on.

Someone says something offensive or obtuse.

Two students in the corner smirk at me and whisper to each other.

2 out of 5 discussion leaders blow off class on the day they are supposed to lead it.

Those two smirking students say something incredibly disrespectful to me.

A phone goes off and I can’t remember what I was saying.

3 students commandeer the discussion.

A pandemic happens and we have to move online and act like nothing has changed.

An election is going on and I have to pretend everyone is looking at me instead of the obvious screens of news reflected off their glasses.


I want to do so many great, innovative things. I want to trust that without attendance and technology policies, students will show up. But most days, I’m just hanging in there until the “bell rings.” I know most of you will say I should keep trying. I also think that other schools I have taught at had students who I was more comfortable with and who were more respectful.

I think that teaching courses need to train us better for thinking on our feet. We should be trying out classroom scenarios, reacting, and getting feedback. We should be swapping stories about non-ideal classroom spaces and students. I think I would feel less like a failure if we could all talk more about how to cope with real situations. The theories of ideal settings are nice, sometimes inspiring… but most of the time they take the backseat when shit hits the fan. And TBH, that is what always seem to happen because we are teaching young adults at a school that doesn’t value writing and the humanities and puts its young GTAs in classrooms without so much as an introductory class on basic classroom management skills.


So… yeah. Ideal theory, peace, love, respect are all well and good, but what about when….


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When faces turn red, no one is learning [Inclusive Pedagogy]

panda covering face in shame

There seems to be an unspoken right for professors to call on students without warning. This I actually understand and sometimes do because volunteers sometimes take 5 minutes to push through silence (and there really isn’t time for that). While I have been told by a few students in comments over the years that this was awkward for them at first, they also tended to follow up with a self-reflection on how they got used to this dynamic. This is, however, one pedagogical tool that may cause embarrassment and shame.

Another pedagogical tool that might cause faces to burn is assuming a students ethnicity, gender identity, citizenship, ability, sexual orientation, and other identity markers. I actually sat in a class where the professor took it upon himself to go around the room and categorize each of us based on what he thought was our gender and ability level. It was extremely uncomfortable, to say the least. This was made worse by the fact that a queer woman was in the class and had made a point of not revealing her pronouns to us. While some might chalk this up to an old man being out of touch, this incident did serious damage to the learning environment and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who had a difficult time listening to anything the professor said for the rest of that class.

Students need to feel safe in order to learn. This is not just about the safety of the physical environment (though that is super important too) but the emotional environment as well. Instructors that are in the habit of shaming and calling out their students are actually creating traumatic memories of learning for their students. I say “habit” because I think every instructor, including myself, has had a moment where they regretted saying something or calling on a student who apparently did not want to be called on. For example, calling right away on a student whose second language is English and who needs more time to process the information. Knowing what students are comfortable with might be a matter or giving them a survey at the beginning of class but it could also be learned over time by observing the classroom dynamics.

All of this supports my thesis here that when faces turn red, no one is learning. When we as instructors fail to tread carefully and use pedagogical tools appropriately, we risk not only alienating our students but also causing them emotional trauma. From conversation had in the past week, it has become clear that anyone who has been in higher education for a few semesters probably has a good “you wouldn’t believe” about a professor. This shows that traumatic moments are quite common in academia, and much of this comes from instructors not communicating respectfully and generously with their students.


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