#1: I want to tell my students “Thank You” for how they affect my life!
Teaching is always seen from the lens of what the students learn, but where is the place where you can tell your students how much they mean to you. Over the years I have been challenged (both in good ways and bad) by students whose insights and ideas push against my own. I learn so much from them and its in this process of learning that I am able to hone and challenge my own ideas about what is right and what is valuable about my activism and my teaching process. I want to say “Thank You” to them all the time and it’s a shame that we don’t have a way to do this more organically. You don’t know how much you have changed me and I am so grateful for it.
#2: I want to celebrate the collaboration that is the teaching experience!
No one learns or teaches in a vacuum. Over the years I have had mentors, friends, colleagues, and inspirations both inside and outside the academy that have made me what I am in front of my classes. I have been able to lean on people with more experience than me as I try to accept my authority as a purveyor of information. I have been fortunate to have people critical of Higher Ed be my guide as I try to reconcile my own distaste for the limitations of the college experience. Every lecture I do is a collaboration of the insights of writers, activists, malcontents, and intellectuals all who bring something to the table for my students to learn. When people tell me that I am good in the classroom I want them to know that I am an extension of a large group of people who are trying to make changes for the better.
#3: When they succeed, I succeed!
I have certainly not kept up with everyone that I have taught over the years, but there are many that I now follow with the advent of social media. I made the decision a few years back to separate my social media from my classroom so I could keep some distance from my personal life and my professional. What I realize now is that while I still crave some separation, I also get so much joy in seeing my students follow their paths and affect their own communities and worlds in such amazing ways. It’s hard in the brief moment that is a semester to think beyond those walls and into what my students might do or become. Seeing them grow and change, find happiness and experience loss, find their passion or learn their dislikes, is such a gift. When I see them do the things they want it makes me push myself harder to be certain that I am doing the same thing. It is also a reminder that the arbitrary nature of “professor” and “student” is worth remembering as I too grow and allow them to see me becoming a full-fledged human being one day at a time.
#4: I am an Activist Teacher
What they never told me in graduate school (and perhaps they couldn’t) was that every time we talk about Queer history, or race, or class, or about cities we are engaging in an act of resistance. It isn’t just that Queer history is a radical discipline in and of itself, its that the very act of giving students something that cannot get other places forces them to rethink their world and their place in it. I am both deliberately and subconsciously pushing them to try and imagine a world that is different from the one we live in. American culture has become increasingly anti-intellect and the classroom is the antidote for that. Not because Higher Ed is a lofty place of ivory tower principles, but because the act of teaching and learning and advocating are at the core of what makes it possible for things to change. I tell my students at the beginning of class that I have a politic, that I wont leave it at the door, and neither should they. I want them to fight me, challenge me, be pissed at me, and to understand me so that we remember that we are all a part of the process.
Teaching is tough. People who think that its simply lesson plans and lectures do not understand the exhaustion that happens from deep intellectual inquiry and the ways you must constantly push to make the classroom environment work. I understand now more than ever before that want to continue to teach and to advocate for a better and more complex world. I want to train the next generation of Queer historians, archivists, and activists so that they work spreads even further. I want to model for my students the behavior that learning is ongoing, and my position on one side of a podium only gives me the authority of time, not the authority of knowing all.