Home » Posts tagged 'evaluations'
Tag Archives: evaluations
There is too much advice about avoiding service as a professor and, to some extent, as a graduate student. As I started my own tenure-track position this academic year, I have comfortably adopted a (polite) “No.” to almost every request that has come my way. And, since my final year of graduate school, in which I went on the academic job market while working on my dissertation, I have stopped serving communities outside of academia. (I prefer to think of “service” not solely as those kinds of extra activities we do to serve our department, university, and discipline, but also as serving people outside of the Ivory Tower.) I have been a good little new professor, and I now have two recent publications to show for it.
But, are there any reasons to say yes — ever? Here, I do not mean — or not just mean — those obligatory-voluntary forms of serving like advising, serving on departmental/university/disciplinary committees, providing journal and grant reviews. What about requests for guest lectures, giving talks or speeches, or communicating with student and community groups? Is there no budging on saying “No!” to all you can avoid without consequence for the seven years toward tenure?
Well, I can think of three reasons to say “Yes.” At least three reasons. And, I mean at least taking a moment to consider “Yes” — at least before politely saying “No.”
Meeting People (Who Aren’t Academics!)
I have been so effective at focusing just on teaching and my research that I have not met anyone outside of work. Also, I am exhausted at such a deep, almost spiritual level that by the time I get home from work, all that I can do before bed is eat dinner and watch TV. I definitely feel an itch to do something — something that helps me to feel I am making a difference in the world. But, even my weekends are spent recovering.
Once my job gets a little easier, and the exhaustion is not as intense, I will continue to only interact with students and colleagues if I avoid (community) service. I miss interacting with people who share my values, politics, and interests — something that is not a given just because we work together or pursued academic careers. I miss talking about something other than academia. (Seriously, every conversation about tenure ends with feelings of anxiety and hopelessness.) I miss hearing about people’s lives outside of academia.
Scholarship In Action
Sure, teaching is one way for scholars to apply their skills and expertise outside of research. But, our students are a select (privileged) group. And, they are asked to engage the material in a certain way, for which they are evaluated. And, unfortunately, we do not always ask them to apply classroom material to their own lives or the world outside of the classroom. Working with community groups, for example, has been one sure way for me to feel that much of what I know and the research I do is meaningful and useful. But, we cannot expect our scholarship to get up and walk beyond the paywalls of academic journals and college classrooms. Sometimes, just having colleagues critique my methods and argument is not satisfying that itch to feel my work matters (or can matter)!
Feel Appreciated And Respected
Okay, so the real starting point for this blog post — the argument that there may be some reasons to say “Yes!” to service — was that I caught myself using an automatic “No.” as a distraction from questioning why I was receiving invitations and requests in the first place. “Oh, no — I couldn’t possibly do that!” came quickly enough to hide that I was also wondering “why me? there must be a mistake!”
An example: One weekend, I received an invitation to use some of my blog posts in a class and, hopefully, to speak to that class. The email was very encouraging, expressing appreciation for speaking openly about (my) challenges in academia. That kind of openness sparked another request to be a keynote speaker at an honor society reception. Wait… wait… the stuff I write on my blog — that I’m still waiting to lead to a real lawsuit or being fired even before I go up for tenure — sparked interest that led to invitations? Wow!
By at least considering “Yes.” as an answer, I had to think through what I would say or do for these invitations. That led me to realize that I actually do have something that (in my humble opinion) seems worthy of sharing. Maybe this is why I received these requests in the first place! People are beginning to take note of my scholarship (broadly defined). I realized though, by automatically saying “No.”, I was not taking the time to remind myself that I am capable, and competent, and have something worthy to contribute. I understand the need to protect one’s time, but there is definitely some merit to considering ways to fight off self-doubt and “impostor syndrome.”
I want to close with a simple thought: give yourself more authority in defining your own career, measures of success, values, and goals. At some point, bits of advice can start to feel like directives. I realize now that I so intensely internalized the messages that service is to be minimized, and community service is completely avoided, and academia and activism don’t mix, that I learned to hide these activities. Only in the last year have I begun coming out of the closet, so to speak, as an intellectual activist. Sure, I am held accountable in certain ways since I desire tenure and lifetime job security; but, outside of that, I only have three authority figures to whom I must answer about how I lived my life: me, myself, and I.
Conformity is overrated. And it is bad for science and higher education.
Before the semester started, I attended a workshop on effectively navigating difficult dialogue in the classroom, co-organized by my own institution (University of Richmond) and another nearby college (VCU). The bulk of the three-hour long workshop seemed to revolve around microaggressions that occur in the classroom; but, the overall goal was to build our toolkits as educators to recognize them and hopefully diffuse them, and understand what happens when we fail to do so.
Psychologist Derald W. Sue and his colleague define microaggressions as “[b]rief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults to the target person or group” (Sue et al., 2007, p. 273). Such experiences have various negative consequences for marginalized individuals who may face various microaggressions throughout the day. As Dr. Sue and colleagues highlight in other work, they may also produce difficult, tense, unworkable dialogue when they occur in the classroom.
Below are a few strategies we discussed in the workshop to prevent, recognize, and diffuse microaggressions that occur in the classroom:
- Set a tone of inclusion, safety, and respect from the beginning of the class. One specific strategy is to allow the students to develop a set of ground rules that will be used for classroom discussion for the semester. Some good examples that we, as workshop participants, came up with include: use “I” statements (speak for yourself); avoid interrupting others; avoid passing judgement; minimize defensiveness; confidentiality; there are no “stupid” questions; take note of others emotions to gauge (dis)comfort. From personal experience, this worked great in a class of 11 students, but does not seem as significant in my class of 24. I suspect an important step even before this one is to clearly define what discussion looks like in one’s class, particularly given the (large) size.
- Pay attention to classroom dynamics. Has a student’s body language changed from calm to tense? Or, engaged to disengaged? Has a student that usually talks often become silent all of a sudden? Do students change their chosen seat in the classroom after sitting in one place for sometime? (In other words, are they avoiding another student, or maybe moving further away or closer to you?) Is a student with otherwise perfect attendance suddenly absent after a class that seemed odd or tense? Some of these, hopefully, attune you to difficulties and tension that arise right away so that you do not see lingering effects in the next class meeting or thereafter.
- Take an active, not passive, approach to addressing microaggressions when they occur. This means continuing to actively facilitate classroom discussion rather than allowing the students to take over. Even if you are uncomfortable, refrain from changing the subject or becoming silent all together. As much as possible, contain your own emotions in hopes that you can deal with them after class.
- Another strategy to consider before the semester even begins is becoming more comfortable with the course material, but also (even if not related) talking about issues of inequality, prejudice, and discrimination. You should not rely on students to respond in certain ways or to speak as experts on behalf of their own racial or ethnic group. I personally struggle with this, sometimes (wrongly) assuming that certain students will offer a critical view on some issue I bring up; sometimes, students will surprise you by taking a different view or remaining silent all together. While this, on the surface, makes sense as the responsibility for the lone instructor for the course, I also understand the constraints we (especially marginalized scholars) feel. We worry about being intensely challenged by a student or disrespected, or about being dismissed as “biased” or prejudiced. And, we worry how this will affect future classroom dynamics, course evaluations, etc.
- Challenge microaggressions directly. Ask deeper questions that encourage students to name and examine their underlying assumptions. Remind students of the ground rules that the class set at the beginning of the semester. If the comment is not even relevant to the subject, let the students know (while also signaling that the comment was hurtful or offensive). If the incident was serious enough, deal with the student(s) directly after class.
- If relevant, cover microaggressions in the class. This will familiarize unfamiliar students, and may help marginalized students give name to these subtle yet pervasive experiences. It will provide students with a common language and conceptualization to use in class discussion.
- When a microaggression occurs, make sure to acknowledge the (potential) victim(s), as well. Effectively diffusing such incidents is partly work to address the perpetrator (intentions, assumptions, learning from one’s mistakes, learning how others were hurt) and partly work to address the victim (emotional/social/physical responses, lingering impact). One of the major pitfalls is the insult of not having one’s existence, experiences, and emotions validated following the injury of a microaggression. Students of color, for example, may be further silenced following a racist microaggression if the instructor fails to signal that they are aware of it and that someone was hurt by it. This, of course, does not mean looking at students of color and asking, “you’re Latina — how did that comment make you feel?” Maybe it is best to ask the entire class how they felt, and explicitly naming that some people of color may be hurt by such comments. It is not enough to accept what may feel like shallow comments from well-meaning white students.