One of the most difficult things to deal with in teaching and TAing is racism in the classroom. I’m not just talking about un-recognized privilege, but actual coded racism (and sometimes not so coded). But i have to thank Sara Gilbert for the best advice i’ve ever received in teaching: always assume the best of every student.
It can be very easy to simply disregard all of the work of a particular student, write him or her off as a lost cause or simply beyond reaching. Especially when these coded messages are coming through late in the quarter. It can be gutting and heart breaking. But i am learning to hold out hope. Intelligent students know to keep their editorials to themselves in the classroom - they sense, and come to censor themselves against, a particular culture of the classroom. But there is something to be said for honoring the trust they have in sharing their honesty in written work. At least i choose to see it that way.
I struggle, but in a class like the one i am TAing right now (with Vicky Lawson, GEOG 331, Global Poverty and Care), at the heart of the course is relational analysis – an analysis that asks the students to recognize that we are all interconnected (and therefore, have a responsibility to care) – it can be difficult to hold patience. But how better to teach than to take the time to explain, understand, and help reach those who are still floundering in the societally constructed vacuums of residual analysis? I am ever so grateful to those who remind me to not judge the judgers, but to help guide them toward a more gentle compassion that gives room for different speeds of learning, for the time it takes to overcome 20+ years of inculcation and indoctrination. I can’t imagine the courage it must take to try to overcome that in just 10 weeks. We are asking students to not just let go of how they understand the world and their place in it, but everything that makes their lives have meaning – we are asking them to let go of privilege in order to really enact it. We are asking them to deconstruct all that they know to be true – realize that their cozy self-constructed senses of self are not so self-constructed as they may think. We are asking them to recognize the lie in which they exist. That is a lot to ask of young people. And ultimately, teaching a relational analysis is really about living it – how better to live it than to practice it among the most privileged people i come to know?