MAKING SPACE FOR MYSELF
WHILE MAKING SPACE FOR MY STUDENTS
by Shewonda Leger
"When everyone in the classroom, teacher and students, recognizes that they are responsible for creating a learning community together, learning is at its most meaningful and useful.” ― bell hooks
In the beginning of the Fall 2015 semester, my assignment was to create an academic memoir, so I pitched a story about transitioning from an MA student to a PhD student. From August through December 2015, I gathered video footage without going back and revisiting what I had collected until it was time to begin the composing process. When I turned on the camera to record, I thought I was archiving moments of my growth as a first-year PhD student. Instead, when I gathered and consolidated the footage I had collected and looked over my journal entries, I realized that my story was not about my experience as a first-year PhD student, but about how I came to make sense of what it means to teach and create a collaborative learning community with my students.
In her video essay “On Estate Sales, Archives, and the Matter of Making Things,” Jody Shipka talks about making meaning and remaking meaning through revisiting texts, materials, or videos that already exist. In the essay, Shipka collects items from yard sales and tells new narratives based on the items she has found. I was not revisiting someone else’s archived materials, yet revisiting my own footage caused me to create new meaning about what my academic memoir was really about. I developed a new trajectory for my project. When I started editing the footage I had collected about my PhD experience so far, I realized that my transition was about becoming an educator and finding my own pedagogical values as an instructor. Paul Prior asserts, “Rather than adopting a single mode perspective on communicative practice, new maps of composing must attend to how writing functions as but one ‘stream within the broader flows of’ meaning-making and person-making activity” (qtd. in Shipka 131). Through the actual composing process and revisiting old materials I came across the idea of creating a different project: “Making Space for Myself While Making Space for My Students.”
In my memoir, I reflect on my previous understandings of what it means to teach. I interrogate my own practices, the practices students bring/transfer from previous institutions, practices I observed as a student, and practices set by my supervisors with hopes of discovering pedagogical approaches that will help create an open learning community in which digital composing and personal narratives are welcomed in academic spaces. Like bell hooks, I now approach teaching “with the conviction that it’s crucial for me and every other student to be an active participant, not a passive consumer. Education as the practice of freedom” (14), “education that connects the will to know with the will to become” (18-19), that “learning is a place where paradise can be created” (207). With hooks’ words in mind, the classroom shifts into an empowering and comfortable space where the center of the curriculum begins from the students’ knowledge and experience.
Making Space for Myself While Making Space for My Students
Special thanks to the students of Writing: Evolution of American Thought (WRA 150), Composition (ENGL 109), and English/Reading Application (ENGL 021) for being the first group of undergraduate students to share their stories with me. They've contributed to my pedagogical values and growth as a teacher.
Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. “The Danger of a Single Story.” TED, Jul. 2009, https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story?language=en. Accessed 8 Nov. 2018.
hooks, bell. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. Routledge, 1994.
Powell, Malea. “Stories Take Place: A Performance in One Act.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 64, no. 2, 2012, pp. 383-406.
Prior, Paul. Writing/Disciplinarity: A Sociohistoric Account of Literate Activity in the Academy. Routledge, 1998.
Shipka, Jody. "On Estate Sales, Archives, and the Matter of Making Things." Provocations: Reconstructing the Archive, edited by Patrick W. Berry, Gail E. Hawisher, and Cynthia L. Selfe, Computers and Composition Digital P, 2015, https://ccdigitalpress.org/book/reconstructingthearchive/shipka.html. Accessed 8 Nov. 2018.