. . . Catching Myself Unconsciously Doing the Same! . . .
At almost every conference, guest speaker event, and wherever some teachers-as-scholars present relatively cutting-edge ideas coming out of their research/scholarship (and often their classrooms), especially if they engage in any theoretical discussion, someone in the audience almost inevitably asks an interesting question. The question is framed in a variety of ways, but it can be generally paraphrased as follows: That was a great presentation, but I am not sure if or how I can take your ideas into my classroom when I go to teach on Monday. For convenience of reference, let us call that question the “What about Monday?” question/phenomenon.
Back when I was a graduate student, whenever I heard any variation of this question, I used to wonder why the person asking it assumed that the presenter wanted him/her to change classroom practices starting the next class — because speakers seldom tell the audience to change anything right away. Usually, presenters describe a challenge, critique current approaches, suggest that members of the profession attend to new realities, etc. For example, throughout the three days of a relatively small but prominent conference on multilingualism and translingualism in writing studies, presenters discussed a lot of interesting issues (theoretical, pedagogical, social, political) regarding the current language policy in composition studies. But, predictably, quite a few members of the audience kept asking the “what about Monday” question in a variety of ways. “Our students need to learn standard English and ‘correct’ writing, so I’m not sure if I can let them introduce non-standard varieties of English into their writing,” said one teacher. Another teacher cited “the employers” as the reason to try to “eliminate all errors” in student writing by the end of college. Yet another admitted her own lack of multilingual/translingual proficiency in order to promote/teach those skills among her students.
I used to wonder if the “what about Monday?” question/comment was just an indirect way of “blaming” those who share/promote new ideas, a psychological defense mechanism that made it unnecessary to recognize one’s own inability to find connections between practice and theory, habit and new ideas, comfort and opportunity, one’s own perception of the issue and the need to understand it in the speaker’s own terms.
Ironically, in the past few months, especially after I returned from the annual convention of college writing teachers (CCCC), I’ve been catching myself asking essentially the same “What about Monday?” question! During the five days of the conference, I not only had constant adrenaline rush of new ideas about multilingualism/translingualism, multimodality, research methodology, cross-cultural rhetoric, writing in the disciplines, and so on and so forth; I also had a nagging feeling that even though a lot of energizing conversations take place back in the institution where I work, I was cut off from the more “cutting edge” conversations in the particular areas of interest such as the above.
When I returned from the conference, I started realizing that I too was making a similar excuse, though I did not ask that same question to any presenter at the conference. Interestingly, it is when I come across colleagues, programs, and projects on campus that I realize are related to my fields of interest that I have been making basically the same excuse of missing connection/relevance.
I am glad that I’m becoming conscious of my own tendency to find excuses because the consciousness helps me to start addressing the challenge instead of complaining about it, as well as to not assume a problem when there is none. One way to overcome the perceived lack of connection between research and teaching, scholarly conversations out there and practical opportunities back here is to expand the scope of scholarly networking within and beyond one’s home institution. No one stops me from going a little further than our particular building or discipline.
Another way to connect our scholarly interests/learning and what we (have to) do on Monday is to keep doing what one can, add substance and quality to one’s work, be noticed by the community, make an impact, build a new community from the ground up . . . and reject the disconnect in the first place.
Yet another way to overcome the feeling of disconnect between scholarship/theory and practice/teaching and between what’s happening out there and what’s available right here is to connect the local and broader networks, to go from lurking to leading some conversations on professional (especially virtual) networks, and to seek opportunities to implement theoretical scholarship in practical work as well as build scholarship for the discipline from one’s own work.
This post is getting a little long, so in the next one, I will share how I am making and finding and valuing the connections I am able to make with other teachers and scholars within and beyond my local department and institution. I will focus on the subject of multilingualism and intercultural issues of literacy/education, scholarship, and media as the hub where a lot of things that I am doing are connected to one another.
I’d like to hear if you have found yourself struggling to make connections between your research/scholarship and your teaching or between what you learn at conferences and what you do back in your institution, etc.