Response to Clio, or, Rules for This Academic Year

I wrote this almost three months ago, in response to a post by Clio. I have put off publishing it for another week every time it has come up, because there is more pain in it than I want to see. Now there has been a comment and I’ve responded, so the post has to stay, rewriting to some degree so it is not so violent.


I spent this long weekend working on classes. I enjoyed this, as I got some things done that really needed doing — should and could have been done more easily much sooner, in fact.

I was able to enjoy it because I am now so situated as to be able to choose interesting and even fun materials for these classes, and work with them in a way I believe will actually do us all some good. Finally, I enjoyed it because if I allow myself to get into any project, it becomes interesting.


I am research oriented; and you can tell, perhaps, because I would rather learn than teach; this means that when I do teaching activities I want to design them such that I also learn or also take on a learner’s role, I noticed yesterday. This is precisely what I was taught would take up too much of my energy and derail my research program, I noticed, but it is in fact what keeps me interested in everything. I realized then, once again, as I have before how erroneous was the advice I received, to do everything halfheartedly.

Save energy!     T E M P U S   F U G I T

Save energy AND TIME!

It is very important to do things halfheartedly, I was taught, because one then produces more, albeit of a poorer quality. This is desirable because easier to publish as your work is less challenging to peoples’ sensibilities, and you have more writing time if you borrow it from teaching time. But doing things halfheartedly, you cannot give them your full attention, and in my case at least, it is my attention that generates a great deal of my interest.

I do not find that it takes more time to do things well than to do a mediocre job, but I was always criticized when I did well because it was assumed I must have spent too much time trying — or because while I was absorbed in the project, as opposed to working on it halfheartedly, it had been too difficult to distract, discourage or derail me. However, I normally have trouble doing things wholeheartedly unless I am located in a foreign country. In foreign countries I imagine that the U.S. authorities whose feelings would be hurt if I concentrated on my projects, cannot see me doing this; I feel free.


Now we are entering the third week of classes, which for me is often the third week of guilt — and also fear. I spend entire semesters terms in panic about teaching for reasons based not on fears of things that might happen, but pain and confusion about some things that do happen, and something that happened long ago.


But I also feel guilty and fearful about teaching because I was told for so long, from elementary school forward, I should spend no time or effort upon it. Women want to teach, not to conduct research, I was told, so I must want to teach. Yet I must learn not to, because it would not be valued. Time and effort spent upon it was self destructive because one would get no credit, one would not be respected, one would not be appreciated, one would be laughed at, one would never write anything, and one would be killed. Killed, and killed. One would be killed and it would be one’s own fault, because one should have known. You are guilty! Guilty! Stop! You cannot hide! We know the content of your heart! Confess! Confess! Confess!


I have often said, for the sake of effect, that I dislike to teach. In reality I do not mind at all; I say I dislike it in self defense against the self image as an execution victim I have just described and also against the image as a teaching enthusiast which was projected upon me long ago, in a projection which was not accurate, and not a compliment.


For this reason, when I walk into class I sometimes have the image that I would prefer to be drawn, quartered, and barbecued now. I know I am committing a grave sin by teaching, and it is hard not to burst into tears and beg forgiveness from the gods. You can see from this reaction the kinds of terms in which I have been spoken to.

I am actually very entertaining, upbeat, stimulating, encouraging, smiling and fun, but that is not at all how I feel during class time. Perhaps you can now see why I am in constant pain and why, although I am sorry for those others who also have teaching traumas, I do not like to discuss teaching because of what it raises for me. What it raises for me is on another plane.


Of course I have all the usual guilt about teaching, which Clio describes so well, and I say to her and to everyone, look: I traumatize myself by criticizing my teaching for these sorts of reasons all the time and it is no good. They will never be truly satisfied and one might as well just be really cold blooded. Those cries about how we have to question ourselves and our assignments do not actually apply to us — we DO do that.


I have formulated some rules for this academic year and we will view them now. What is odd to me is that when I wrote them three months ago they seemed momentuous, a great reach out backwards in time to a better place — yet now, they seem natural and almost unnecessary.

a. Always take care of your health and life first and foremost. That doesn’t mean be flaky and let “life issues” take over (that is some Reeducated silliness), but it does mean you are feeling strong so that you can be lucid and objective and keep things in the proper perspective.

b. Teach (and do service) with interest and/but according to your lights, remembering your priorities above other peoples’. The worthy will thank you for modeling self care and clarity. Your kindness and compassion will still show through. The combination will turn you into the best of teachers and servers/administrators. As to the unworthy — well, off with their heads, said the Red Queen.

c. Health + research as #1 leads to the best teaching. We know that already, of course, but my trauma is that when I appeared on the tenure track it was alleged that teaching and research did not go together, and that a good research record was proof of a poor teaching record, and the lunatics were running the asylum.




Filed under Da Whiteman, Resources, What Is A Scholar?

9 responses to “Response to Clio, or, Rules for This Academic Year

  1. For this reason, when I walk into class I always have the image that I would prefer to be drawn, quartered, and barbecued now. I know I am committing a grave sin by teaching, and it is hard not to burst into tears and beg forgiveness. You can see from this how sternly I have been spoken to.

    I am actually very entertaining, upbeat, stimulating, encouraging, smiling and fun, but that is how I feel in the meantime. Added to those feelings we have my actual teaching traumas, so you can see why I am in constant pain and why, although I am sorry for those others who also have teaching traumas, I do not like to discuss teaching because of what it raises for me.

    I have had the same thing going on — but only when I teach Westerners. I was surprised to hear my own voice coming out steadily each time I had to face them. Basically, everything with Western culture is censurious. I always had to ask myself whether I was saying something whereby either the content or the tone, or anything else, could be construed as me making myself superior to the other, or perhaps inferior to the other. I could not, despite all my intellectual and psychological calculations and endeavour to practice until perfect, come up with a formulation that I could be confident would avoid such censure.

  2. Z

    Some of it does come from the students, I suppose, perhaps more than I usually realize. But I have it from academic authorities all my life saying ominous things — over and over, too, as they did not think me bright enough to understand.


    And from my parents, whose ghosts have that kind of influence because of Reeducation, which invoked and installed them — something I should remember in a conversation I will have tomorrow, in fact: the memories and understanding I got from Reeducation reinflicted everything in a worse way, and I was complicit this time, and that is how it all got worse.


    I’ve just spent four days working like a maniac on teaching, though, and enjoying it. (Of course, it’s partly so as to avoid another scary / painful activity, but I say, I am at least doing something academic in a clear minded way.)

  3. Yes, of course.

    And so am I. Australia now has a Green-Labor (union) minority government, led by a woman.

  4. Z

    This happened today?

  5. Yes. There was a hung parliament, so the two major parties had to forge a deal with three independents, and it took just over two weeks to do it. So now we have a centre left government, or so. There are a lot of Greens in the Senate, so they will be unlikely to pass any rightwing legislation, and one Green in the House of Reps.

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