Today, we are making chocolate chip cookies for your bake sale on Tuesday. I am beyond excited to make something, package it lovingly, and eat the extras with you. I’ve been stressed out of my mind since August–the academic calendar has no mercy–and it feels less forgiving because this year I more or less decided to become a better teacher.
Not that I was ever a bad one–I’m an excellent tutor and can’t wait to do homework with you–but ever since I first brought in “My Name” to freshman composition at Pitt, and I remember Maggie and others glaring at me with scorn before they tore my love to bits–I never brought in something close to my heart again. I danced around what mattered to me. I’d bring in Grace Paley. I started teaching the textbook, the most punishing being Foucoult’s prison piece, Panopticon, and the sleeper hit being Walker Percy’s The Loss of the Creature, which I liked, machismo aside. In this text, Percy argues that in modern society, we are anxious to the be first. To document our lives. To have an authentic experience.
I guess in some ways, I see teaching in the same light. It’s a living archive of things that I find worthwhile to share with a younger generation, many of whom think I’m not enough of a TikTok evangelist. My pedagogy is simple: it’s one of slowing down. Of kindness. Of finding value in the miraculous every day. It’s one of survival, which I hope to model for students who are broke down, anxious, depressed, and at a loss for what the world has taken from them. They are learning how to be good ancestors, and I think it all begins with sacrifice and putting your money where your mouth is. Since I have a huge mouth, I’m still learning this lesson.
Also, this year, I’ve been reading more critical theory, especially as it pertains to race. So let’s just call it critical race theory. I’ve been asking the hard questions, sharing bits and pieces of myself that leave me bare, exhausted, and under the scrutiny of eighty pairs of eyes flickering underneath masked faces.
It feels a little like I’m teaching Cisneros all over again, only it’s just me throwing myself into the wind and am hopeful it blows into loving waters. If I was boiled down like tea and only grounds were left, I think in the remains I would find bits and pieces of myself, and one of those forever truths is that I have a core identity as a teacher. There’s some comfort in that.
Today, I said, “Can I please have a little space?”
You beamed up at me.
“Because. you. are. MINE!”
Oh, be still my heart.