Is it a good thing when…

Is it a good thing when your work makes your stomach churn?

I'm teaching this course in online creative nonfiction. I'm generally a little chary of the whole idea of professors assigning their own books to the course -- and in fact, I dropped a philosophy class in college in part because the ONLY book the professor assigned was his own (the other part was because he was a big jerk). But we've spent the first two weeks of the class reading excerpts from my blog, and it seems pedagogically sound to do so, since my blog is one of the oldest on the internet, and one of the very few still extant from those early days.

I think it makes historical sense to look at it, and talk about it in context of how blogging started, and how it's changed since then; I think I can offer my students a unique and valuable perspective on the subject, as a result of my own unusual position. I would feel weird, leaving my blog out. I would feel as if I were skipping over material important to the subject, just because working with this material is uncomfortable for me. But oh, my darlings, it is definitely uncomfortable.

The blog talks about writing, and academia, and house renovation, and knitting, and cooking, and all of that is relatively safe. But it also talks about my love life, and as a result, it by necessity talks about polyamory, and bisexuality, and oh yes, there's that entry that talks about deciding to have kids, finally, and that mentions, briefly, the abortion I had at eighteen. That is far more than some of my students want to know about their professor. And yes, there's an argument to be made about the value of students seeing their professors as human too, irrespective of the course you're teaching. I do believe that. And that can only be more important when we're talking about marginalized social positions, and the value of coming out of the closet, etc. and so on, and I know the arguments, I do. I even agree.

But the fact remains that it's weird, and uncomfortable, and every time I do this I know that some students are going to be disturbed, and some are going to be upset, and I feel bad doing that to them, even if there are good reasons to do it. I suppose I would feel the same way if I were teaching any class that made them uncomfortable -- Historiann was just talking about teaching the history of sexuality and unhappy student responses to the difficult material. But it kicks all the issues up a notch when it's not just the material I choose to teach that makes the students uncomfortable, but the fact that the subject of the material is standing in front of the classroom. Going into class every day, I feel a little bit naked.

We've talked about this difficulty, the students and I, and I think we're reasonably okay. They're not really graded on anything having to do with my blog, unless they choose to write their first papers on it, so if anyone is seriously bothered by studying their professor's writing and life, they can keep their heads down for two weeks, breathe a sigh of relief when we move on, and not have their grade impacted. I think that's probably an important component of this approach too.

Tomorrow's the last class on this material, and then we move on, and I admit, I'll be relieved too. I do not enjoy conflict -- I just posted something political on Facebook, and am already regretting it, because the comments got negative really fast, and they made my stomach churn, and I just blocked someone for I think the first time ever, because I found their comments personally offensive, and I couldn't take it. Sometimes, you just don't have the energy to do the work, you know?

My students read a lot of my blog, and a lot of them liked the political entries best -- the ones about 9/11, or our invasion of Iraq, or Katrina. And that's funny, because there are so very few entries like that -- and it's not because I don't think about politics, but because most of the time, I find it so nerve-wracking to talk about my political opinions, out loud.

It would be easier to just post cute pictures of my kids making valentine crafts.

And I even hesitate to post this entry, because it's entirely possible that someone reading this will think that I'm a terrible teacher for making my students read my blog, and won't hesitate to tell me so. It would be easier not to say anything about it at all.

It would be so much easier, not to say anything controversial, ever.

But that's not the job I signed up for.

6 thoughts on “Is it a good thing when…”

  1. “…My students read a lot of my blog, and a lot of them liked the political entries best — the ones about 9/11, or our invasion of Iraq, or Katrina…”

    I think you just answered your own question.

  2. I admire the work you’ve done in thinking this through. I admire the fact that you’ve chosen the path you think is educationally best even if it is uncomfortable. I recognize that reasonable people could come to the conclusion that keeping students comfortable facilitates learning. And, hey, maybe as you continue to teach this course that will be where further experience leads you. But right now I am glad for teachers like you who challenge students to acknowledge, examine, and deal with personally or ideologically uncomfortable ideas and experiences. I think that’s a useful life skill.

  3. I spent a half an hour going through 6 versions of an essay I wrote to demonstrate the long haul. I avoided content to show form. Perhaps this wasn’t the most fun way to teach. Your way sounds, though nerve-wracking, fun.

  4. Seems like it could also be a useful way to talk about vulnerability and what they are really, really signing up for when they choose to write nonfiction about their own lives.

  5. I wasn’t much older than your students when I started reading your blog, but you weren’t my English teacher. That does feel like it’s crossing a line to me, and I have no philosophical or religious issues with your life choices. It feels more graduate school appropriate. I can understand why you felt like your blog was important, but I wonder if there was a way to make it optional or put spoiler alerts for lack of a better phrase? It also would feel awkward to have that as the introduction, rather than showing up in a later phase of a class. Perhaps helpful for building trust, perhaps best to “get it out of the way” since students will stumble on it. So, yes, I disagree with your choice, and rather strongly; it feels ill-advised for you as much as for them? It opens you up to charges of ill intent, by people with less trust of you?

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