well. i’m writing this post on Saturday morning. Yesterday morning was my last day of my first teaching gig. Twice a week for six weeks, 3.5 hours Monday and Friday mornings we met.
I was terrified. It was the same feeling I had when i started grad school way back in 2003, but from the opposite side. Then, and this spring, I was sure I’d be found out as a fraud, that I would reveal myself as incompetent. When i started in ’03, I was also working, both at an advocacy centre in a suburb (about an hour drive away from campus) and as part of the radical feminist anti-violence collective of whom i’m so fond. I had spent the previous 15 years working at that kinda front-line stuff. From bathing grown men and women to preparing women for court to facilitating groups for people who had been diagnosed with a mental illness or women who had experienced male violence to making meals for up to 100 people at a time to planning memorials for people who had died too soon–work was intense: enraging and heartbreaking and joyous.
I was nearly forty when i returned to school. Terrified. Exhilarated. Doubtful. Defensive. Curious.
it’s been quite a ride. I finished a Master’s Degree, and it’s quite the thing. But none of it is published yet, and it’s kind of important for it to get out there. it’s a critique of Vancouver’s Four Pillars Drug Policy. With a special focus on Harm Reduction. I started out with the idea that perhaps there was something awry about the way that harm reduction was implemented in our town, here, that it was maybe a decent approach to drug-related social problems. But that’s wrong, drugs themselves are the symptom, not the cause of social problems, and when you look at reducing the harms of drug use, (and only illicit street drugs, or the drug use of illicit street people, more like), you’re still not looking at the fundamental political and social problems which lead to drug use and addiction. Anyway, i went on and on about it for, like 200 pages. and the defense was an event–i invited everyone I knew (and a few people I didn’t) to come.
And they came. Then i regretted it. But one of my buddies, he said after, “you know, i’ve been to one other defense, and I didn’t understand a word, practically. yours, I understood.” That was good to hear.
Another one said, “i was really angry when you first started talking, I thought, ‘she’s touching my sacred cow! What is she doing with her hands all over my sacred cow?!” (about harm reduction–i am not a fan). But then he settled down a bit, he said, and listened, “You have given me some things to think about,” he said, and he thanked me. he was very gracious. Didn’t agree with everything I said, but never mind that, a door opened.
And teaching has been kind of like that. I went in sort of expecting people to push back a bit. I’d heard that typically, the folks in this class would be tired from their teaching practicums and anxious to be finished school and off to their new careers. They’d be reluctant to talk about so much theory–they would want to know techniques for classroom management and student evaluation. I figured they’d be a tough crowd all in all.
Oh, but that was not the case at all. the first day, I told them a bit about myself, I told them that I had done all this front-line work and facilitated groups and designed and facilitated workshops and stuff like that, but never taught a course.
“Don’t be nervous” said one young man in the front of the classroom.
“Thanks,” I said, “You either.”
I made a ton of mistakes, and did a lot of things right. I wouldn’t assign such difficult reading, and I’d probably get them to build representations of theoretical concepts a little closer to the end of the class than the beginning. And I’d do more in class writing and then talking, have them work in different groups (i had them work in their same small group all term to create a final presentation based on their practicums) and next time, for sure, I’m going to talk way WAY more about sexism, prostitution, male domination, and how the education system colludes with all those other institutions of power. We reached a pretty sophisticated understanding of that stuff this time around, I hope it wasn’t a one-off, you know? and i came at it sideways, through class–which is not just income or economic status-and that’s tough to sort out. But the education system has it sorted, and medicine, The systems themselves are way ahead of us–we all collude with them ’cause we can’t see what we can’t see, ya know? And Medicine is deeply implicated with the reproduction of social inequality, what with the whole attention deficit disorder scam going on, for example. warehousing children.
AND–I thought that there would be more talk about sexism in the teacher education program, i really did. How naive of me. I focused on class, but once we got into the semester, it became apparent that any discussion of male domination and sexism had been silenced by a subtle but inexorable shift to combating bullying and homophobia. Girls and women scarcely exist, except as straight allies in the GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) groups in high schools. Everywhere there are anti-bullying campaigns, rainbow posters and ‘feel good’ messages about inclusion and acceptance.
Meanwhile, grade seven girls are giving grade nine boys blowjobs in exchange for cigarettes and ‘belonging’. Young women are taking testosterone to ‘get the body they’ve always wanted’–or starving themselves to fit the model image–
A young woman of my acquaintance, dissatisfied with her body, claiming it does not represent the way she feels ‘inside’ has decided to take “T” in an effort to achieve the look of ‘not woman’. She said she won’t get surgeries, but will only take t until she has the physical changes. I think i know what she means. I too want hard muscles and broad shoulders. Is that what she’s after? ’cause you know what, as my buddy R said, “you can run for days, but you’ll never get away from your womanly hips”.
“just pump iron,” I want to say to her, “that’s how you can achieve peace with your body, become at home with it, with yourself”. it’s one way, it takes a long time, but it’ll take, then. But it’s not–it takes a long time to achieve the results. Not like injections.
That’s another thing we have to talk about in relation to the young people and education, I think, is that instant connection world we live in now. Instant gratification, instant connection, fluid hook-ups and ‘transitioning’ willy-nilly. all wings, no roots. How can teachers make that Victorian Institution, the SCHOOL, a behemoth of brick and homework and classification and evaluation and ‘streaming’–how can they make it a place of collaboration, inventing freedom, redemption, resistance? How? I don’t think i can teach that.
Anyhow, it was the scariest thing i’ve ever done–well, the scariest thing i’ve ever done while sober, I guess. and those scary things i done drunk,well, they weren’t so worthwhile, I don’t think (i don’t really remember, that’s more like it). But it worked out. We sang together sometimes, and i played my accordion and we had these interesting discussions and even the guy who said, “I don’t want more theory, I don’t understand!”gave me a hug at the end of class and said he had learned a lot. He’s the working-class immigrant guy from a huge, poor family in China. Nice guy. solid, steady, he got it– one day he said, “you know, i’m not supposed to be here at all, in this university–not as a student–I should be a janitor here.”
I said, “you know the theory, man, you’ve got it.”
they took some risks with each other, pushed the boundaries of their understandings and assumptions, collaborated through conflict and bad weather. can’t ask for more than that for a first term, i think.
okay. i’m going to a rally for Canada’s Postal Workers now. ordered back to work by our federal government, never given a fair shake by the employers or the state–the media whipping up anti-union froth among “the public”–we’re in trouble here. I wore my anarchist t-shirt. is that a contradiction?
I love your blog when I get a chance to read it. Congrats on the teaching gig and thanks for sharing your experience. Almost had me crying here in my classroom (while waiting for class to start) thinking about how I can’t believe I’m here, either. Oh, and I would LOVE to read your thesis critiquing harm reduction!! xoxo Hope to see you soon.
Carla! lovely to see you here. thanks for reading, and I’d love to hear what you think about my thesis, too, let me know when/if you ever have time to read it and i’ll get ya a copy.
I love you, Erin Graham. I’m blessed to have the chance to learn from you outside of academia, and I’m SO glad those students are now getting the benefit of your solid analysis and teaching. Lucky, lucky, lucky us – all the way around.
PS – Nice new look! It’s GORGEOUS – airy, colourful, fanciful, dreamy. Lovely.
I love you too, Lynda Gerty. and am grateful beyond words for our alliance and friendship. lucky me, too.