Educators are People, Too: Reflecting on Social Location in the Classroom
How many of us think of our courses as intersectional? Yet, are we truly living up to the theory of intersectionality when it comes to pedagogical structure, design, implementation, and assessment? Are we honestly taking the time to consider how our very presence in the room might alter the environment?
Of course, making all of this a reality is not easy. Intersectional pedagogy requires continuous examination of instructor social location in terms of impact on learning, privilege, invisibility, bias, & assumptions. We must repeatedly ask:
- What is invisible to me due to my privilege?
- Who is missing?
- How might I be performing my privilege in the classroom?
- How might students respond to me based on me social identities and the interactions among those identities and power structures?
- How is communication altered by my social location?
- What needs to occur in the curriculum and in the classroom to account for my social location (if possible)?
I doubt anyone reading this wants to be Circle Teacher unaware of privilege, marginalizing students, maintaining invisibility of structures (literally a wall in this case) that result in disparities. We have to work at becoming aware of when the wall is cut to our form while others are scrambling to climb over or painfully squeeze through.
As an academic from a working-class background, I often struggle with the wall which is cut to the form of middle-class norms of communication, language, dress-code, and individualism. With a large percentage of my students being first-generation and/or working-class, this helps me understand many of their obstacles entering the academy and figuring out the landscape and where the landmines are located. Of course, being a woman at the front of the classroom also affects not only my approach, but how students view me and frame my presence.
At the same time, my whiteness, able-bodied status, and U.S. citizenship can often prevent me from recognizing the daily microaggressions that students of color, students with disabilities, or immigrant students face. My full mix of privileges and marginalized identities undoubtedly impact not only my pedagogical choices, but also how students experience me.
So what can educators do to at least attempt to correct for social location influence on teaching and learning? Some ideas:
- Take the time to think about your own social location and intersections of identity;
- Consider how your social location might affect your views of students and especially the areas where you might be less aware of their experiences;
- Seek out and apply pedagogical resources that promote educator reflective practices;
- For each course each semester, ask yourself how the assigned readings might represent your social location more than others. Adjust accordingly to bring in perspectives outside your own location;
- Reflect on examples, videos, activities, assignments, etc. and what ways they can be adjusted to incorporate social locations beyond your own;
- Speak openly with students directly about how instructor social location could impact how they interact with you, how you communicate with each other, and how awareness of these influences can help us overcome preconceived notions (in both directions); and
- Expect to learn something new from students based on the rich knowledge they bring to class from their own social locations that can inform the community of learners more broadly.
And if that feels too overwhelming, as Doctor Who always advises, “hold on tight and pretend it’s a plan.”