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Category Archives: from life experiences
Yesterday we learned of the horrors of 751 (more) Indigenous children being found in unmarked graves of a residential school, this time in Saskatchewan. This morning I’m working on University of Alberta’s fantastic Indigenous Canada course & cross-referencing dates with my direct ancestor Jacob Rawn, who was born already a settler 100 years before the Indian Act of 1876. This work is making pretty damned plain my responsibility to figure out how to participate actively in Truth and Reconciliation. I am a direct and traceable beneficiary of the oppression of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. I don’t know what to do exactly, but it feels like naming this privilege is an important step.
The last time I posted I was in a dark space. It was January 2021, and there were months left of pandemic teaching ahead of me and so many others. I was clearly overwhelmed.
Today is a new day. There is reason to hope that, with the rollout of vaccines*, we can see an end to the pandemic that has kept us hidden away for so long. Difficult and important conversations related to equity, diversity, and inclusion are (still) happening among my friends and colleagues. Many are working toward un/learning and developing solutions. It is a long journey ahead, but there are more of us taking steps on it than ever before.
Personally, since submitting grades in early May, I recognize my immense privilege in being able to shift into a kind of recovery mode, giving my brain lots of time to rest and my body lots of time to move. For this I am so grateful. Even so, I’m still struggling to find focus for more than an hour or two on most days. My heart goes out to all those who have not been able to take a form of recovery break.
Some folks were ready in May to start thinking about post-pandemic teaching. I was not. It’s taken me a month to create space and perspective to just begin reflecting on my teaching over this past year, as I re-learned the core aspects of my job.
What have I learned teaching through a pandemic? Some very preliminary thoughts:
- Students inspire me to work harder and to show up with the best self I can offer. I will drop pretty much anything else to do what I need to do for my students.
- Time with students (e.g., in class, in office hours) is important for my own well-being and career satisfaction.
- I can offer students an opportunity to somewhat customize their grade breakdown, while maintaining the department-required average, and it’s not too much extra work
- I miss two-stage exams for the community and competence they build
- Clicker-style questions on Canvas have some advantages
- Discussion posts have potential to enhance learning, at least for some students. And once I got the hang of it, they weren’t too hard to mark (minimally) regularly. Bonus: Kept me aware of what my students were thinking and understanding (and, depending on the prompt, feeling).
- Video recorded lessons help everyone (and are a little scary for me)
- There are some advantages to online exams (e.g., question and answer randomization, auto-grading MC)
- Now that my courses are set up in modules form, they just need updating to help keep me and students on track
- I’d like to use verbal feedback/videos more, but I find it difficult to motivate myself to do so. Writing just comes fastest for me most of the time… but leads to a lot of words on a screen.
- Being more flexible in deadlines is great for students and works for me… but is tough to program in Canvas and communicate
- Group drop-in office hours on Zoom worked really well imo
- Individual appointments, booked through Canvas and done on Zoom, worked pretty great
- I really really really miss (and rely on) the visual feedback from my students’ faces and body language during class to know how things are going
- Group annotation tools are fun and useful, so is a side chat panel
- Self Determination Theory of motivation has real potential as a guide for my decision making and priorities. How can I use it more? What are the downsides?
- [I might keep adding to this list as I think of things]
What’s coming next on the Blog
Over the coming weeks, I will be working on digesting the comments my students offered through the student experience of instruction mechanisms at my institution. I usually do this annually, and post my reflections as well as synthesized quantitative scores, but last summer I was in too much of a panic and avalanche of work every single day to do so. So this summer, I intend to examine and compare feedback from 2019/2020 to 2020/2021. I taught the same three courses over those two periods, but under drastically different global and “classroom” circumstances. I look forward to learning from my students… even more than I did all year long.
*which need to spread world-wide urgently
Thanks for asking. No, actually, I’m not ok. This morning I hauled myself out of bed to make a 7am medical follow-up appointment, arrived on time, only to find I’d failed to properly book that appointment online. Last week I missed a medical appointment entirely. Last month I realized I was still sitting doing email at the time I should have been there. If you know me at all, you know I never miss an appointment. I’m not ok.
It’s been 10.5 months since my workplace locked down on March 16, 2020. Cracks have been showing for a while… and they’re widening. My hair is *literally* fraying. Fraying! I have never had such brittle hair. My right (mousing) shoulder leans forward all the time because the rib underneath it gets caught on my shoulder blade. I think I’m tired enough so I go to bed and then I lie there for an hour or more ruminating. I’ve always had trouble falling asleep (sources confirm 100% of my lifespan) but this feels different, more resistant to the coping strategies I’ve honed over the years. I often wake up in the middle of the night and ruminate some more–that’s entirely new. This week one of my (formerly in-person now Zoom) yoga teachers announced she was moving on from teaching and I had to stop doing the class to catch my breath through so many tears. You get the picture. I’m not ok.
I am deeply grateful I’m one of the lucky ones in all this. So. Much. Privilege. I still have my job and have not been furloughed. I have (mostly) successfully re-learned how to do the most important parts of my job. I share my work-from-home situation with my husband who is (still!) my best friend… and we share this luxuriously large 1200 square feet of space with no one else. I have not tested positive nor has anyone in my inner circles*. I have a home I love, and an office chair and a stand-up desk riser thing for
our dining table my home office. I have access to the physical health care, mental health care, groceries, and internet I need. I live in a province where rates are relatively low and our leadership is taking this seriously…. There is so much I am grateful for. And I am not ok. I can’t imagine how so many others are functioning. You have my deepest admiration and respect.
My therapist reminds me to celebrate the resilience I am showing, all the things I am doing to keep myself as well as possible. She reminds me that there is no rulebook for how to get through a pandemic… as long as we’re following public health orders, I (we) cannot fail at this. I will emerge, we will emerge, bruised and exhausted and worn and humbled and immensely grateful for the smallest gestures, like a hug between friends.
In the meantime, let’s all stay physically away from each other, wear our masks properly, get the vaccine when we are able to, be patient with ourselves and each other, and dream of a day when we can put this all behind us.
*edit: except for RC and ML back at the start!
Just in case this obvious thing needs to be said: I know I’m going to make mistakes in this work. But I can’t let my ego get in the way of trying to work against racism. So let’s talk.
After Tweeting and Facebooking off and on this topic for weeks, I’ve realized it’s time to start *actually* writing about it. This first post isn’t meant to be exhaustive or complete or perfect, but to help me organize my thoughts a little bit more deeply. And I post this publicly because maybe it’ll be of use to others, too.
I’m really thinking a lot about how decisions get made in my higher ed context (UBC) and in my discipline (psychology). In the 17 years I’ve been working and learning at UBC, I’ve seen countless decisions depend on opaque, hidden, unpublished, squeaky-wheel-gets-the-grease, kinds of processes that have bothered me since the very beginning. I’ve always known they are unfair, but couldn’t really pin it down, or feel any ability to change things. These processes privilege those who already feel privileged in this institution, and they form barriers for people to enter/succeed who don’t know how the system works or don’t have the right connections. And now I see these decision-making processes as fundamental to the maintenance of systemic racism… at an institution physically situated for the last 100+ years on the unceded traditional territory of the Musqueam Peoples.
I am grateful to everyone who has contributed to recent calls to action in society broadly (#BlackLivesMatter, #IndigenousLivesMatter), in higher education specifically (e.g., #BlackInTheIvory). Although sorry I didn’t see this connection sooner, these calls to action have helped me draw the link between systemic racism and decision making processes in higher education.
Also so grateful to the people with whom I have been able to dialogue in (socially-distanced) person and online (especially Dr. Amori Mikami and Isobel Allen-Floyd), as I continue the journey into anti-racism work.
It’s important to acknowledge that I have learned to play these games, to find out how decisions really get made here and to insert myself in those spaces. I have benefited from this system. It did not come naturally to me at all. I had to learn this game because I am first generation in the academy. But I’d be naive at this point to think that being White didn’t help me out here. I could go under the radar, get free passes, was assumed to be “one of us” who comes from a long line of scholars. Also relevant for the timing of this work: I received my promotion to Professor of Teaching last year, which has been liberating.
A few resources…
Here are a few snippets from my more recent readings that have really stood out to me:
From Chun & Feagin (2020, Ch 4 “Reformulating the concept of “microagressions”: everyday discrimination in academia”): “A forward-looking and flexible analysis shaped by changing new social and demographic realities should address the impact of covert racial and gender discrimination whose intentionality is hidden within highly nuanced institutional processes and cleverly disguised in vague “meritocratic” justifications” (p. 129, emphasis added). This chapter also led me think on why the concept of “micro-aggressions” is so problematic, including Scott Lilienfeld’s paper “Microaggressions: Strong claims, inadequate evidence” (2017, in Perspectives on Psychological Science; as well as his essay version).
In an interesting twist, our own UBC President Dr. Santa Ono tweeted about Chun & Feagin’s book last year:
Shoutout to my colleagues Edna Chun and Joe Feagin on their outstanding new book on diversity in higher education. pic.twitter.com/GciRv4tCd4
— Santa J. Ono (@ubcprez) September 4, 2019
The role of “Department Chairs as transformational diversity leaders” by Alvin Evans & Edna Chun (2015, in The Department Chair), https://onlinelibrary-wiley-com.ezproxy.library.ubc.ca/doi/pdfdirect/10.1002/dch.30001
In psychology: (almost) exclusively white journal editors and editorial board members on prestigious journals is linked to fewer authors who are POC and to fewer participants who are POC and to less published research in those journals that examines race. This link marginalizes a crucial variable (i.e., our science is worse for it, conceptually speaking) while simultaneously hurting the careers of people who examine the impact of race (who are more likely to be POC). See Roberts et al (2020 in Perspectives on Psychological Science) https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691620927709. See also
And some key sources that I have found inspiring/helpful over the last couple of months:
- 10 Signs Of Institutionalized Racism And The Rhetoric Of ‘Greatness’
- White Academia: Do Better
- #GoodAncestor Robin DiAngelo on White Fragility
- Racism Exists in Canada
- Accept that you’re racist, then get to work dismantling racism
- See also my thread of resources from June 2, and this one from June 10
The upheaval resulting from COVID19 is creating an opening for meaningful change in so many ways. People are throwing their hands up and acknowledging we have to re-make pretty much every decision about how we do things anyway… so why not use this moment to build better? Do I “have time” for this? [insert obvious answer] But how can I not? When will we ever get another chance like this?
So, I have begun this work over the past couple of weeks by examining and questioning decision-making processes, particularly as I see them play out in my Department. This is not because I think my Department is any better or worse than any other unit — I’m operating under the assumption that systemic racism is everywhere. Instead, it is where I think I might have the most potential to have some impact in the short-ish term. I can use the bits of power and privilege that I have accumulated through decades of game playing to speak loudly and advocate for change.
Drawing most directly from Chun & Feagin’s work, but informed by many, I am identifying processes that (1) lack clear criteria that are made explicit to those who will be judged by them, and (2) nonmeritocratic job access (i.e., facilitated by or depending on who you know), especially when clouded by rhetoric that decisions are made based on merit.
I’m looking these decision making process as they operate among faculty members (e.g., teaching assignments), and among students (e.g., mechanisms for entry into research assistant positions in labs, including the fact that the first ones are almost always volunteer). Changes made in these areas might actually increase some efficiencies while making them more accessible more broadly.
What am I missing? Where would you start? Are you with me? (Please!?)
And just in case it needs to be said (again): I know I’m going to make mistakes here. Maybe you’re reading this and thinking I’ve already made a bunch. I can’t let my ego get in the way of trying to work against racism. So let’s talk.
I have been promoted to Professor of Teaching! Woohoo! Since sharing the news about a week ago, I have received a wide variety of reactions from friends, family, and colleagues, on Twitter, Facebook, in person, and over email: congratulations ranging from ecstatic to calm; variations on “well, of course we all knew that was coming” and “aren’t you too young for that?”; as well as confusion (“weren’t you already a professor?” “didn’t you already have tenure?”) and inquiry (“does this mean your work will change?”)… and so on. Reflecting on this life transition, as well as such plurality of responses from others, has led me to this post. What does my promotion mean to me?
- The body of Teaching, Educational Leadership, and Service I have completed, as summarized in a dossier and CV I submitted one year ago (~200+ pages including appendices) has been reviewed and deemed worthy of promotion according to these criteria by individual reviewers outside UBC, teams of reviewers at the Departmental then Faculty of Arts then UBC-wide levels, and the UBC President himself.
- Here’s what I sent to my family: “Because my job is focused more on teaching than on research, my titles (starting with Instructor and then Senior Instructor with tenure, which I received in 2014) haven’t matched the usual “professor” titles (which start at Assistant Professor, then Associate Professor with tenure, then simply Professor). So although my job has been “equivalent” to a professor for a long time, my title has not reflected that. Until now. My new title, as of July 1, is Professor of Teaching!!! There are only about 35 or 40 of us with this title across the whole institution (about 1000 or more profs of various ranks)….”
The Little Things that Add Up to Feeling Valued and Respected and Authentic
- When a student calls me “professor” — as has been happening throughout 12 years of teaching — for the first time it’s actually true. My title is Professor of Teaching. That voice inside my head that says “well, not really” can just shut up now.
- For the first time, when someone at a conference asked today what I my role was at UBC, I had the option to quickly say “professor” or “professor of teaching” and they instantly knew what I meant. I didn’t have to choose between the generic “faculty” or fully explain my former title thusly: “Senior Instructor — which is UBC’s title for a tenured faculty member who specializes in teaching.” This new option gave me an exhilarating sense of authenticity.
- For the first time, the institution at which I work formally recognizes that the work I do is Professorial. I feel a greater sense of respect for the work I do.
- It means I don’t have to keep adding “(tenured faculty)” beside my title when I sign reference letters, so that the people I’m endorsing aren’t potentially harmed by my ambiguous title.
- It means I’m done synthesizing my body of work in a package for my work colleagues to evaluate (unless I choose to do so for some particular purpose).
The Relieving + Scary + Overwhelming + Exciting
I have jumped through the last hoop that Academia has laid out before me. Any title changes from now forward are because I’m actively choosing to shift my career focus. This is it. Since graduating from kindergarten, I have been in a seemingly (until now!) endless pursuit of the next diploma, the next degree (x3), the next title (x3)… but this is it. This is just starting to settle in. I am a person who still owns and can locate within about 10 minutes the achievement/outstanding student/excellence award plaques received in Grade 2 and Grade 8 and Grade 12. I am a clear example of how the education system can be considered a giant operant conditioning machine. But this is the last hoop. (If I want it to be, I suppose, but that’s different.)
This realization started out relieving, is currently sitting as rather terrifying, and I’m sure will shift more to exciting and empowering. Earlier today (at STLHE) I was at a session about mid-career faculty and a table-mate offered me this metaphor: I’ve been climbing a mountain and suddenly I’m staring at a plateau. This is helpful and overwhelming. I have 20+ years ahead — which is as long as it took me to get here since starting undergrad — to navigate without a finish line, a benchmark, a guidepost or a pathway provided by the educational institution. What do I do now? Of course I have courses and projects and priorities on the go, and perhaps more vision for the coming years than what I’m implying here. But for now, I’m allowing myself the discomfort of sitting at the top of the mountain, looking out onto a vast plateau.