Teaching is one of those professions I briefly dreamed about as a child, but as I grew and learned and experienced education at the high school, then undergrad, then masters, and now PhD level, I fell out of love with the idea of teaching. I had met too many instructors who abused their power, too many that taught me nothing at all, too many that seemed to not care about my mental or emotional well-being in my pursuit of the elusive A++. Learning quickly became less about watering and harvesting knowledge, and more about achieving accolades and shiny letters on my report cards. I never wanted to be an enforcer, I wanted to be a gardener.
My ambivalence for teaching turned to disdain when I began working towards a PhD and was thrust into teaching with no training or guidance. Mine is an extremely common TA story of being paid too little to do too much; I was made to lead discussion classes on subject matter I had never seen before, pushed to teach skills to students that I had only learned myself hours earlier, and required to enforce rubrics and grading structures I had no say in determining. This introduction to teaching was not what my childhood self had dreamed, and it only reinforced the feeling that teaching was just not something I ever wanted to do again.
But there were moments of joy in learning that I can’t quite let go of, experiences that shaped me into an anti-academy academic who sees the value in educating. My kindergarten teacher who spoke to me gently and encouraged my painting, my middle school actor-turned-science teacher who told me I was smart despite the lack of AFAB individuals in STEM, my high school English teacher who supported my college essays on my mild fear of elevators and saved my writing to use as examples for future students—these individuals shaped my life in ways I could never forget. They taught me that teaching is about more than grades and participation, but about human connection, care, and kindness. They watered me and watched me grow despite others trying to trample me. They held my mind with careful attention and allowed me to question their own authority and welcomed my defiance.
The Praxis program has also been a part of that joy. This group of faculty and staff members have treated me with care and kindness, allowed me to question them and the program, and invited me to express concerns and “hot takes” at the start of each meeting. I say the lights are too bright in the room and four people jump up to accommodate me. I say I’m not so sure about the digital realm of expression and knowledge and each faculty member validates my concerns. I question my decision to begin a PhD program and three members take meetings with me to talk about alternative career paths. The experiences I’ve had with these individuals have shown me a way of teaching that places relationship building at its core, a way of being in community with students that centers each of our needs above the prestige of the academy, an experience in which I am valued as a human, not just another nondescript student.
Though I don’t have much teaching experience yet, I hope to model my teaching off the individuals who have helped me find the joy in learning. I pledge to speak gently to my students as my kindergarten teacher did to me, to encourage students who may be the minority in their fields to pursue their passions, to turn off the lights in my classroom if they’re a bit too bright. There is so much potential to move beyond the arbitrary nature of grading and into a space of healing and respect, a space where relationships are built, and humans are cared for based on their individual needs. Growing one’s knowledge is a precious thing, a thing that often is only afforded to some, only accessible to a select few, and only grown in specific directions. To teach is to hold power, that cannot be denied, but sharing that power and knowledge is something we should all aim to do in ways that cater to those who seek it out.
My research focuses on Indigenous ways of knowing and being with the land and the ways settler-colonial technologies have been deployed in the hopes of destroying Indigenous lifeways. The university is one such technology, a space that often is used to spread colonial knowledges and obscure Indigenous ones, but this technology can be used against settler knowledge. The university can and should be a space of heeling, of learning about lifeways different than our own, of exploring understandings of the world that we may not encounter elsewhere. As a settler educator, I aim to open students up to these alternative ways of knowing with care and respect. I aim to push against colonial canons and encourage students to search out media that speaks to them from outside of the academy. My way of teaching is possibly best described as an anti-university approach, one that actively challenges the parts of higher education that exclude and distract from meaning making and relational understanding.
I’m not sure if this is a teaching statement, a journal entry, a manifesto, or a chaotic rambling, but I also am unsure if teaching is ever quite as simple as a list of hopes and accomplishments. Sharing knowledge is about being in relation with others. It’s about mutual care and understanding, mutual giving and receiving of information and inquiries. I expect to learn from my students just as much as they learn from me. I expect to give them time and space as much as they do for my class. I expect to encourage growth in all directions and work together to forge new understandings through joyful exploration. I want to be a gardener, not an enforcer.