Sunday, October 4, 2009

Margins, or This View

Last week I had my students write this phrase on the tops of their papers: The text works for me. My goal was equal parts empowerment, authority, and ownership, three things so similar and yet, different. I wanted them to know that their voices matter, that what they think matters, and that all these other voices, these conversations buzzing around their heads as we read, discuss, and write, they are there as much in chorus as critique, but we never know which until we open our mouths, touch the pen to the page, choreograph our fingers on the keys.

I've been taking this lesson myself these past few weeks as I sink into the blur of student papers, maneuvering through the mountains of research telling me "what might work" and "what should work" in the classroom. I'm three weeks in, seven weeks from an uncertain finale, and I already know this - might and should are good words to boost hope and calm fears when the initial worry of 24 students hits home. I know, too, that might and should mean very little in the presence of 24 living, breathing individuals with unique identities, each one bringing something slightly, if not greatly, different to the table. What I've learned is that I cannot control these variables, and the thought of making a class fit all of them seems silly, if not impossible and unnecessary, because there is one person in that room I can control, and one thing I can offer them that is different - I can give them me.

Last year I wrote a narrative about taking life, grad school specifically, on my own terms. What I've realized recently is that leading a classroom is no different. The best and most I have to offer comes from the parts of me that are nonnegotiable and yet constantly evolving. It's amazing how much easier teaching became when I stopped trying so hard to "Teach." As it turns out, the set list for this concert is varied and winding - it pits the long, slow notes alongside the necessary bursts of bright, brilliant noise - it's messy and organic and must be questioned and reshuffled as many times as necessary to get it right, to get the crowd singing lyrics you never thought they heard. So, I bring what I know, and we laugh and we talk, and I push and they push back, and we muddle through it the best we can. My goal, if there is such a thing, is to show them how to bring themselves to the party, to stand up for their perspectives, and to back it all up as solidly as possible - their voice, their text, their thoughts. I want them to see me not as infallible, what a sad, misguided task that might be, but instead, I'd like them to see someone who's working it out, who's paying attention to the margins as much as the middle, someone who is looking through as many lenses as possible, but never forgetting the value of my own.

I'm reminding myself of this, nine papers to go, my right wrist weary from commenting, the night wearing away. It's exhausting, this business of being ourselves, but I'm thinking it's worth the work.


Michelle said...

Oh Sister dear. I know you only posted a picture of yourself so that I will start getting ideas of how to cut your hair. You can't fool me.

K A R I™ said...

I hope you know how lovely you are, both inside and out!

Ashley said...

Ahhhh, they should make ALL first year TAs read this! Inspiring, Brandi! I love it.

Chelsea said...

I also LOVE this. And I'm finally commenting, after stopping by to reread it a few times.

Meghan said...


So THAT's what you look like!


Sorry I didn't get the chance to meet you face to face when I was in Seattle. The first thing I said to Gabe when I saw him at the airport was,

"Tell me how you know "This is Yellow!"

I love reading your words, as always. You're good, good people. Person. Individual. Girl. Lady. Woman.