In a recent reading group, where all participants had read Katina Rogers’ new and timely book, Putting the Humanities PhD to Work (Duke UP, 2020), I learned a new tip. I had set up a typical inventory activity, a Think-Pair-Share, in which I asked everyone, “What is one key take-away from the book that you can/will/plan to use this academic year?” After the first response or two, Katina Rogers kindly broke the silence and suggested that after sharing, each person pick someone new to go next. With each participant passing the baton on to the next person, eventually everyone shared their key take-away. All I needed to do was keep track of who had already shared and who hadn’t so that I could make sure everyone participated.
Total participation is really important, as we know from ample research (the term comes from the American Psychological Association) and educators like Samuel Delany: it indicates to all participants that their voice matters, and it gives all participants practice contributing something, practice engaging in a community, practice in a democratic process. It is optimistic and ambitious but it is possible, and there are ways to do it well in a physical classroom and ways to do it better online, techniques I am quickly learning from colleagues who have more experience working in online platforms.
There’s something else really important about this moment that I want to highlight. Educational tips and tricks are things we learn together as a community. Raewyn Connell writes in The Good University (2019): “Like research, a great deal of teaching is collective labour. The public image may be a solo lecture by a star performer. The everyday reality is a team of technicians, administrative staff, tutors and lecturers moving in a ballet in which that lecture is only a passing moment. The know-how of all these workers, their day-to-day coordination over months and years, are what really make up mainstream university teaching” (48-9). This describes my reality at CUNY, and it’s an asset both in the academy and beyond, to speak to what Katina Rogers calls “translating” our teaching into something legible to a broader field of careers outside the academy.
This is the “university worth fighting for,” as we imagine it at the Futures Initiative, where I am a research fellow: a community of scholar-teachers who share tips and tricks of the trade for the benefit of all learners (including among educators, for we too are learners). Moreover, this kind of openness to sharing–we might call it a fierce collegiality–is something we have to offer the workforce wherever we go (onsite or online) and on whatever teams we join (in or outside the academy).
Although it may feel, especially now, like the academy has turned its back on you (adjuncts, I see you), I remain hopeful that this pandemic offers us an opportunity to create radical changes both in the academy and in our lives. After some months of grieving our pre-pandemic world, I stand ready to be surprised by what new possibilities arise from reimagining my career and life in a post-pandemic society. Despair is still lingering in the corners but I keep thinking about what Katina Rogers says in her book: “The world needs you” (127). I really believe that is true, that a humanities PhD is a tremendous asset even if it doesn’t feel that way right now. So, adjuncts: I hope you see the value in what you do, how you share what you learn and know, and what you have to offer the world. Keep passing it on, wherever you go.
Read a full event recap here.