Power Pose?

While I was student teaching, in my rush to get ready in the mornings, I had a few wardrobe staples that I would always fall into wearing: patterned leggings, my boots, and a basic long-sleeve t-shirt that I could easily put a sweater over.

While in my mentor’s class, however, while I try to look as professional as possible, the very atmosphere of a college classroom and my role within it has changed how I feel I need to dress. Whereas I was very concerned when I was in a high school about how professional I looked, in my mentor’s class, although I try to avoid t-shirts whenever possible, on my lazy days, I’ll throw a t-shirt on and a baseball hat on to cover my hair.

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The problem with my lazy days, though, is that it makes me look more casual than I should look in my mentor’s classroom. In a sense, her classroom is also my classroom, especially as I’ll be teaching soon, and when I’m wearing a baseball hat or a t-shirt, I don’t look like I own the classroom.

I look like my students, instead.

I have a bad habit of slouching, as well, something I’ve noticed in my students (another similarity) when they’re looking at their computers instead of paying attention, but when I’m standing at the front of the classroom (as opposed to hiding off in the corner with my own laptop), I try to overcompensate for that and take up the space that I know I can.

Standing with my arms against the chalk tray is its own kind of power pose, I hope (although not of the Wonder Woman variety), but at the same time, it could be seen as lax or too casual, and I’m constantly searching for the balance between being a figure that students feel safe to approach and being an authority figure of some sort.

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“Are you trying to power pose me?” Rosa asks Amy. (Source.)

This is something that is definitely reflective of my larger identity as a person—in therapy, one thing I’ve struggled with is defining myself outside of my identity as a student, and in the classroom, I still feel and look like a student.

At the same time, trying to appear confident is a bit at odds with how I feel most days, which is cripplingly anxious. I keep my pens in my bag so I don’t have anything to click when I’m in front of the classroom, and by spreading my arms so wide, I look more relaxed than I actually feel in front of my students.

I’ve often talked to some of the other GAs about how appearing confident like this is just a matter of adopting a “teacher persona,” something I struggled to do in student teaching, especially when it came to classroom management and discipline. The urge to stand in front of the classroom, too, is part of my teacher persona, so I can become an active part of the class rather than just sitting behind a desk, but it’s still hard for me to confidently implement.

I would love to find more natural ways of standing in front of the classroom while still appearing active and confident, is what I’ve realized, and I hope that while I try to hide my anxiety in front of the class (although maybe I should show it? Or at least be open about it?), that my tone sounds as confident as I want to be in front of the class.

The nature of my anxiety is one thing that I might want to share with my students that is currently a bit hidden from view (although maybe not so hidden if my awkward posing is just a manifestation of my anxiety). This anxiety also ties into how I physically appear as a person, since I identify and have been labelled as fat, and am consciously aware of how much space I’m taking up. I did make this partially clear to my students as we were talking about a fat-shaming article in class, and I mentioned that I cry after every doctor’s appointment. I have to wonder, too, if they think of me as fat when they look at how my t-shirts cover my stomach and how large my thighs are.

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Source. The nervousness is primarily because of GAD rather than bisexuality, but “nervous” is definitely a word I would use to describe myself.

The other facet of my identity that would otherwise be hidden from my students as my bisexuality, as there is a problematic aspect of “straight-passing” that goes along with such an identity, but as we were having a discussion about privilege, I accidentally came out as bi to my entire class while trying to give an example of something, and I’m curious as to whether or not they would have otherwise known if I’d never said anything.

Essentially, attempting to bring forth my teacher persona results in an internal battle between the parts of my personality that are confident versus the parts of my personality that are constantly under attack by my anxiety.

Whether or not my students should know this, or whether they see it, is another matter that I can only imagine how much they think about.

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Writing is More than Class

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Source.

As I prepared to give my final student teaching presentation, my friend — there for moral support — came up to my cooperating teacher’s desk where I stood fixing the dongle, tapped the wooden sign there that said “I’m silently correcting your grammar,” and whispered, “I hate this.”

I gave her a tight smile, muttering back that it was the worst. We had had previous conversations about how grammar instruction and the mythos of standard English oppressed native languages and dialects, and this knick knack suddenly represented all that was wrong with traditional instruction.

First-Year Composition put this idea into concrete terms: native languages and dialects need to be valued and validated in the educational system, and, when they are not, this is a contribution to the promotion of cultural assimilation (xviii) This is especially important in composition classes where the focus is primarily on how we write and use language.

(SAE is a language of privilege, but that’s a conversation for another day. My friend mentioned in the anecdote, Rachel Wright-Márquez, presented at a conference on Navigating Linguistic Hegemony in the Writing Center: The Mythos of Standard American English and its Implications, and her best practices information can be found here.)

As my undergraduate education was in English education, I have the advantage of entering graduate school with methods, content, and pedagogy courses under my belt, as well as practicum experiences and an entire semester spent student teaching high school freshmen. That said, I know that helping high school students understand Romeo and Juliet will be much different than helping college students understand how to write a rhetorical analysis. This previous teaching experience was very traditional in that the curriculum that needed to be followed was primarily crafted in order to prepare students for NWEA testing, even if that meant emphasizing standard American English (SAE, sometimes referred to as Edited American English).

I had my phase, as have most English majors, where I declared myself to be a “grammar Nazi” (and given our current political climate, I hope even more fervently that this phrase has died out), but as I began running a classroom, I realized that a lot of my students didn’t understand the importance of reading and writing skills beyond school’s emphasis of SAE; the importance of NWEA for their high school careers was not something that mattered to them, and quite a few of my students thought “English was dumb.” They didn’t care whether they were engaging with the ideas we were talking about, as “First Time Up” says this is the “help” students need most (and this is probably the help we should provide most frequently in our classes), but instead just cared about doing the bare minimum to get by (16).
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Source: Pinterest (although here is some basic information about the rhetorical triangle)

My experience with rhetoric and composition as fields of study are limited in comparison to what I feel I know about the field of education; I can whip out phrases like “scaffolding,” “ZPD,” and “pseudo-concepts” like they’re no big deal, but my understanding of tools like the rhetorical triangle is shaky at best (and as such, a lot of my primary questions about composition come down to what define it as a discipline).

The common ground between my educational background and composition, however, comes down to Adler-Kassner and Wardle’s metaconcept that “Writing Is an Activity and a Subject of Study” (4).
This was something a lot of my freshmen didn’t understand — how was writing important outside of helping them to earn a good grade in English 9? They didn’t want to be English majors or authors, and they didn’t revise, just as Teller argued of his students, although I loathe to say something similar to Teller.

As a had a one-on-one moment with a student, praising him for his use of simile in a paragraph response, he seemed stunned that I was proud of him for that, and I tried to use the opportunity as best I could to emphasize that strong writing like that would get him far in life, as writing is something we’re always doing, even if it’s not scholarly writing.

Of course, writing is hard, and many students will always struggle with it, whether that’s because their brains are better wired for math or because English isn’t their first language and they have to write in English as their teachers don’t speak Bulgarian or Spanish or Pushto (three of the languages some of my freshmen spoke). Writing and communication are important outside of the classroom, though, and it is our duty as teachers to help students strengthen these skills.

What’s important and what will always be a concern to me in both teaching and in composition is that students be able to communicate their ideas in ways that are easily understandable but in ways that respect their identities.

This is what I want for my students, whether they’re studying English as a discipline or whether they want to be construction workers or go into the military or be stay-at-home parents. Composition may have started as remediation, but it can be so much more than that.

Sources:

Adler-Kassner, L., & Wardle, E. (2015). Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies (1 edition). Logan: Utah State University Press.

Coxwell-Teague, D., & Lunsford, R. F. (Eds.). (2014). First-Year Composition: From Theory to Practice. Anderson, South Carolina: Parlor Press.