Monday, January 16, 2012

Shattering the Ivory Tower: Resources for Prospective "Academics"

Academic carries a snooty connotation. It is a label that undercuts the importance of a teacher's calling (yes, teaching IS a calling. Stay tuned). How about the ol' "Ivory Tower?" You know, that place of elitism, where the finest scholars cloister themselves from their non-Ivy League educated colleagues and all students to instead focus on dossiers and sip lattes as they discuss Foucoult and Spivak and whether the Subaltern can speak (all great conversations, BTW, except any about Foucoult *shudders*).

Bell Hooks ("bell hooks") in Teaching to Transgress, discusses the role of the teacher, her calling, the duties she assumes, a contract she enters, promising to give her students her all. Teaching is student-centric. There's a label for you--one I've always loved, though.

While I attended the Grad. Master Class, the lovely, insightful, second semester student and teacher, Sara Kvols (along with the fabulous Sherryl Clarke) talked with our fellow Hamline-ites about teaching in the community college. Marsha Qualey was generous enough to allow me to address teaching in the university, balancing the writing life with the full-time faculty appointment. Here's a recap and a few things I had discussed with Sara about the teaching life and our students.

Teaching is not a "job." Teaching is not a CV padder or a "hobby" you should do because you've earned an MFA. If you are called to teach, read bell hooks. Read her often. Read her work again and again. And if you are called to teach, your focus will be on the students, on their growth. You'll learn from them. You'll laugh with them. And you'll learn to laugh at yourself. This is key, for humor unites us all, no matter where we're from. Our students deserve our best, and not just a warm body standing behind a lectern. They want hope that they too have a story that matters, that their teacher will listen, that she will see a spark in them, in their writing, that she will listen to their stories in her office at seven thirty in the evening (beyond her "scheduled" office hours) because the student matters.

Teaching is a calling. Your students will look to you as some kind of omniscient, omni-present know-it-all. And it's up to you to reassure the students that you're not. You're just like them. Y'all are on the same team, and through hard work, listening, and lots of dialogue (spare them the "lectures--" they'll tune you out in a second), you'll find the ties that bind you because there are many. And maybe, just maybe, a student will write you a note or pull you aside and tell you that she was told her whole life that she couldn't write. And now, she can.

Teaching is a calling. Teaching is student-centric. Hold on tight, you'll learn from them. And your life will never be the same.

Websites for university, community college, and online/remote faculty appointments: (this site will require an institutional username and pasword. If interested, please send me an email, and I'll pass mine along to you).

The Chronicle of Higher Education, a subscription worth your while:

Feel free to ask any questions about the interview process, building a CV, managing 100 students (in composition courses--which are the courses one will teach in the university for some time, anyway), keeping your sanity, or any other facet of the teaching life. If you would like sample syllabi or just to chat, here is my email: You learn to "teach" from your students, just as we learn to write from our own writing.

Our students deserve our best. We're all looking for the same thing: hope, affirmation, and light, a safe place (in the classroom, perhaps, in the office, in a coffee shop, in a stroll across campus). Teaching is a calling. And our students need us more than ever. Any advice from Inkpot Land? Resources? Thoughts or experiences that will help a new teacher cross the threshold?

***Much love to the teachers in the Hamline MFAC program for showing us all that teaching IS a calling.***


  1. Thanks for passing on the great resources!

  2. This is a terrific post, Mellisa. Very inspiring about the vocation of teaching and practical info about how to pursue jobs. You have been such a resource in that area and I know will continue to offer.

    Roger Rosenblatt discusses teaching writers in his book Unless It Moves the Human Heart: "When I find something essential in their work it is up to me to say 'here you are.' I am helping you get a glimpse of yourself. Teachers need to find things that work in the writing and celebrate them. Then the writers themselves will side with you against their weaknesses."

  3. Thank you for the book rec., Claire. Funny thing about being a teacher and a writer... I celebrate my students achievements, encourage them to do so, yet I struggle and often don't follow my own advice. LOL.