My birthday is in three days which means one thing: school’s here.
Now, if I’m an expert at anything, it’s going to school. I think I had some shaky moments in kindergarten, but I bounced back beautifully and have since become a studious little fool.
Technically, I’m in the 18th grade. So I’ve been at this for a while. But this year marks a big difference—I get to teach. More specifically, I get to teach college freshmen. Now, I was an assistant teacher last year, so this isn’t my first go around at the front of the class, by any means. But this IS the first time I really have to embody authority. That’s what this is going to be about. How do you claim authority when you’re used to being a marginal member of society?
Now, once people get to know me, they trust my expertise on writing, literature, what have you. But on the first day of class, when I’m only a few years older than my own students, I don’t have an especially extended amount of time to make an impression. I have no doubt that by the end of the semester, the chair isn’t going factor much into their perception of me. But I do wonder what they’ll think on that first day. Or if they’ll think anything at all.
I admit that most of what I’ll be doing will be cerebral. The chair shouldn’t physically affect much. The biggest impediment, I think, will be opening the door. Most of my concerns are social. Will the disability distract them? Should I acknowledge it? Can I joke about it? How uncomfortable would they be if I told them they can call me professor X since my last name is difficult to pronounce? I think it’d be funny as hell, and I think it would be good to expose moldable minds to disability in a way they maybe haven’t previously encountered, but can I joke about it? Is that weird? Is it good that it’s weird? Will they notice that I never write on the board? Will they go out of their way to pass papers out amongst themselves instead of letting me distribute them? Will they assume I’m a pushover?
I broached this subject with a friend (mentioned on a video here before and referred to as “unimpressed”) and he suggested that perhaps I wasn’t giving them—or myself—enough credit. Said that I carry myself in a way that my authority and respectability in the classroom shouldn’t be questioned—at least not on account of the wheelchair. But he’s been around me plenty. And let’s face it, if I’m friends with him, he probably doesn’t fit the model of the typical college freshman. But maybe I’m not giving them enough credit? Maybe it won’t influence a thing.
But maybe I want it to? I suppose it’s really a question of intent or purpose. The main point of my university’s first year writing program is to teach students how to become better writers and rhetoricians. How to argue more effectively and how to translate that onto paper. It’s not exactly an arena for disability-related issues. I mean, I could make disability rights or disability in the media or something like that the theme or topic of a course, but if I did that, would it seem too self-serving? Would I come across as having an agenda that overshadows the primary activity—composition? I honestly don’t know. Is it worth potentially pissing of the curriculum coordinators to find out? Probably not as a second year master’s student. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t take small moments—when a student runs over to help me with the door—to make them aware. Small lessons, surely, should be encouraged. Because I want them to leave as better writers, absolutely. But it’d be pretty excellent if they could also leave as better people. Or at least more well-informed people.
There are no answers in this video. At least not right now. Only questions. I hope that throughout the semester I’ll be able to revisit this topic on here—preferably in positive ways, though conceivably in not as positive ways—and even if I don’t have answers, at least have new questions. And cool students. I promise to be a cool teacher, please god just give me cool students.
In the wise words of Michael Scott: “Would I rather be feared or loved? Um, easy, both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.