What We Carry with Us
There’s a dress hanging in the back of my closet. It has hung in a dozen closets in four states over 28 years. I wore it in 1988, for my first day of a teaching career that began in high school and now takes place at a four-year public university.
It’s a simple dress, really--a bold blue with red highlights and copper buttons. I thought of it as a classic style, but I was still surprised when my teenage daughter asked to borrow it. I hadn’t really bought it for fashion. Rather, I thought it made me look “teacherly.” I was a mere 21 years old, ready to put that B.A. Ed. in English Education to good use. I actually looked about 17, so certainly this dress (with matching red heels) would give me the look of a sophisticated veteran teacher.
Why did I choose this particular dress? What did I think it said about who a teacher is – what a teacher should look like? Was it armor to protect me from students only a few years younger? Or maybe it was pretense, hiding the false self. I was from a working-class family, the first in my family to earn a bachelor's degree. How could I step in front of a classroom and feel at home?
It is also one of the most personal experiences I share with virtual strangers each semester. We meet for those 16 weeks and share ourselves as we read, discuss, ponder, question, and reconsider long-held notions of what it means to be in the world. Now a veteran of the classroom and someone who trains future middle and high school English teachers, I have grown more and more interested in how metaphors of teaching express ourselves and help us grow.
In writing this blog, I will bring metaphors to the page in hopes of challenging all of us, whether we officially serve as instructors in a college classroom or informally teaching students through our positions as staff members.
Over the years I’ve come to understand, however, that spaces and objects cannot be individual metaphors for teaching. Instead I’ve replaced the teaching and learning binary with the notion of living, of being a participant in the educational processes that take place in those classrooms. How we live together in those 16 weeks inspires me, makes me excited every new semester.
This dress remains a metaphor for me. I no longer fit in it, but I still cannot give it up. I hold it close as a way to remember how I have evolved and continue to grow as I teach, learn, and live.
What is your favorite teaching artifact?