Leading with Love, or a Pedagogy of Getting the Hell Over Myself
Author(s): Chelsea Bock
Chelsea Bock is an editor and an adjunct communications professor at Anne Arundel Community College. She holds an M.A. in English from the University of Maryland, College Park, and an M.A. in Humanities from Hood College. Her research interests include political rhetoric, public memory, and remediation in media.Tags: bell hooks, in memoriam
At the ripe age of 24, I stood in front of my bedroom mirror, wiped my sweaty palms down the front of my dress, and prepared to teach my first community college class. I was buzzing with six years of coursework in everything from Faulkner to feature writing but had never learned how to stand up in front of a room for fifteen weeks as Professor Bock. What if I quaked at the sound of my own voice? What if I was met with stares and snickers? So I operated under the recurring piece of advice I was given: “Remember that you’re in charge. You command the room.”
By the time I had graduated and taken on a full-time teaching load between two schools, I felt like I had found my groove. I was still young but more confident and at ease around my students, especially the working adults who took night classes. And then one evening, I froze as one of them shuffled in with a crying baby in tow. She took a seat at the back of the class and bounced the child on her knee, whispering as she tentatively met my eyes. My face hardened into a scowl. When the class ended, she approached me to apologize. “I’m so sorry. At the last minute, I didn’t have anyone to watch her,” she said. “I saw your face. I know you weren’t pleased, and it won’t happen again.” This time, I felt myself grow hot with shame. I had commanded the room. But it didn’t feel good.
I’ve carried that lesson with me for nearly a decade now: not the one I was teaching but the one my student gave me. Remembering bell hooks, I decided to replace my shame with opportunity. hooks writes in Teaching Critical Thinking: Practical Wisdom that “when everyone in the classroom…recognizes that they are responsible for creating a learning community together, learning is at its most meaningful and useful.” No matter what my agenda for the day holds or what assignments are due the next week, my students can’t succeed if I’m not rooting for them.
Envisioning the classroom as a space for community, collaboration, and transformation means decentering myself just as hooks did in both her theory and practice. “To build community requires vigilant awareness of the work we must continually do to undermine all the socialization that leads us to behave in ways that perpetuate domination,” she writes in Teaching Community, and I believe this starts with rejecting the “old school” of teaching as policing. On some days, it looks like throwing an encouraging smile to the commuter who struggles to make his train on time for class; on others, it looks like setting out crayons and paper in the writing center for children so that their mother can restructure her resume.
Thank you, bell hooks, for your pedagogy of empathy and respect. You brightly lit my path to becoming an asset to my students and never an obstacle.
hooks, bell. Teaching Critical Thinking: Practical Wisdom. Routledge, 2009.
—. Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope. Routledge, 2003.