Teaching Experience: An Inventory

The following is part of my A Troubling Teaching Portfolio. I’m continuing to work on it, but I’ve spent most of my time crafting it within a master pages document.

Small Graduate Seminar Classes that I Developed and Loved Teaching:

  • Queer/ing Ethics
  • Feminist and Queer Explorations in Troublemaking (taught two times)

Classes that I Taught that Were Out of my Research Areas and that I Didn’t Know Much About Before Teaching Them*:

  • International Feminist Theory: Feminism from a Transnational Perspective
  • Introduction to GLBT Studies
  • Queering Desire
    *In order, from least to most knowledge prior to teaching class

Classes that I Taught that Were New to Me But that Quickly Became Central to my Research, Teaching, and Writing:

  • Feminist Pedagogies (taught three times)
  • Queering Theory (taught three times)
  • Contemporary Feminist Debates (taught five times)

Classes that I Taught as a Graduate Student at Emory University in Which I Was Mentored, Payed Well, and Not Exploited:

  • Introduction to Women’s Studies (Sole Instructor, taught two times)
  • History of Feminist Thought (Teaching Assistant)
  • Women and American Identities (Teaching Assistant)

The Biggest Class that I Taught that Forced Me to Realize that I Despised Big Classes in Auditoriums and that I Was Not Cut Out for Managing 120+ Students, 2 Teaching Assistants, and a lot of Blog Assignments:

  • Politics of Sex

The Class that I Taught in which I Scheduled a Screening of Nine to Five that I Didn’t Attend So That I Could See John Legend and Corinme Bailey Rae in Concert:

  • Popular Culture Woman

The Class that I Taught in which I Encountered a Student who Despised my Teaching (more than any other student I had ever had) and then Forcefully Requested that I Allow Her to Take my Feminist Pedagogies Class the Following Semester*:

  • Rebels, Radicals, and Revolutionaries: History of Western Feminisms
    *Request denied.

The First Class that I Taught at the University of Minnesota, where I Met One of my Favorite Colleagues/People Ever and in Which I Got to Teach Halloween on Halloween:

  • Feminist Thought and Theory

The Class That I Taught About 5 Hours After Finding Out That My Mom Had Died From Pancreatic Cancer:

  • Feminist Pedagogies

The Last Class That I Taught at the University of Minnesota, and the Last Class That I’ve Taught Since Fall 2011:

  • Queering Theory

How to Teach Almost Three Quarters of the Department Course Offerings When You Only Have “Expertise” in One Quarter of those Courses:

  • Be creative and crafty in finding ways to connect the topic to your research and teaching interests
  • Be open to expanding your research interests
  • Be willing to learn with students, not just teach them
  • Read a lot, really quickly
  • Embrace the feeling of panic and uncertainty that you will feel the entire semester as you frantically try to stay (at least) a few steps ahead of your students in reading the material and understanding the concepts
  • Don’t try to be the Expert
  • Take a lot of deep breaths

How to Endure But Not Survive a Class That You Despise, One Approach:

  • Have someone* create a private webpage with a countdown, right down to the second, of time left in the miserable class
  • Have them include an animated gif of Homer Simpson repeatedly waving his middle fingers that you can look at as you prepare to walk across the bridge, enter the auditorium-sized class, stand at a podium, and speak into a microphone for 50 minutes to (mostly) apathetic students
  • Check the site after the final class and watch in surprised delight as the countdown clock explodes and transforms into a video, with shooting rainbows, of Cee Lo Green singing “Fuck You”
  • Laugh and celebrate
  • After you stop laughing realize that this class, and the larger trend towards “more butts in seats” destroyed your passion for University teaching
  • Stop teaching
    *For me that someone was my awesome husband.

Class Location:

  • 3rd floor classroom with individual desks, in building under renovation, occasionally without heat, a 10 minute walk from office, which seemed much farther on days when it was -20 below and snowing
  • Seminar Room with big table, frequently overheated, occasionally double-booked, no built in projector, about 50 steps from office
  • 1st floor classroom with individual desks which we would move into a circle every class period and then move back at the end of class because the next professor liked neat rows of students facing forward to look at them as they lectured or (probably) gave endless power point presentations, in same building as 4th floor office
  • 1st floor classroom with big table, no built-in projector, frequently locked, requiring that someone hunt down a maintenance worker to unlock the classroom, in same building as 4th floor office
  • 1st floor classroom with individual desks, in adjacent building to office, a 2 minute walk from office
  • 3rd floor classroom with individual desks, in adjacent building to office, a 2 minute walk from office
  • 1st floor classroom with individual desks, a 10-15 minute walk from office
  • Auditorium with fixed seats, maximum capacity 246, located across the Mississippi River, a 15-20 minute walk from office


  • Creating courses that met the official requirements, as dictated by the department and the University, but that reflected troublemaking values and fostered undisciplined practices.
  • Constructing reading lists that attempted to prioritize inexpensive materials and focused on unsettling students’ common-sense assumptions.
  • Training students how to use and mostly enjoy, but occasionally despise, blogs and twitter.
  • Developing assignments with detailed instructions that were intended to provide guidance while encouraging creative experimentation, but were sometimes excessive, causing students to feel overwhelmed and resentful.
  • Introducing students to the virtue of troublemaking and the importance of cultivating a feminist curiosity, which was liberating, but also confusing, occasionally disheartening, and exhausting.
  • Avoiding giving lengthly lectures or writing on the board because I strongly disliked both.
  • Uttering repeatedly “this just made my brain melt” or “this is a chewy bagel” during almost every theory class.
  • Assigning topics and readings that were unfamiliar to me in order to learn with students and to experience uncertainty with them.
  • De-centering self as teacher by repeatedly encouraging students to serve as expert guides within class: sharing their knowledge and perspectives in online assignments, mentoring other students on using blogs and twitter, reporting on resources related to the class, and leading class discussions online and in class.
  • Ending the course with more questions than answers.

Processing, 5 April

It’s been a long time since I wrote a processing post. I was working (for way too long) on a talk that I gave on April 1st for the Women’s Studies Colloquium Series at MSUM. You can read it here: On (Re) Claiming Education: One story, a few lists, lots of questions and an invitation from a Undisciplined Troublemaking Feminist Educator.

Wow, that was a painful talk to write. Partly because it was long (a 40+ minute talk), but also because it was hard to position my work within the academy again. I was confronting some haunting questions and feeling really uncomfortable about what I could possibly offer to an academic audience.

I’m glad that I wrote it and presented it at Moorhead. The audience was great and I got to see one of my favorite people, KCF. Plus, through the process of working on it, I clarified some ideas for my book. In particular, I found an additional angle for my interest in the syllabus. Syllabus as contract.

The Contract

In my talk, I drew upon Adrienne Rich and her address, Claiming an Education.”= (I had used it for my first teaching statement from 2006). In revisiting it for my talk, I was struck by Rich’s focus on the importance of an ethical and intellectual contract between students and the teacher. Here’s how she describes it:

If university education means anything beyond the processing of human beings into expected roles, through credit hours, tests, and grades (and I believe that in a women’s college especially it might mean much more), it implies an ethical and intellectual contract between teacher and student. This contract must remain intuitive, dynamic, unwritten; but we must turn to it again and again if learning is to be reclaimed from the depersonalizing and cheapening pressures of the present-day academic scene (Adrienne Rich).


The contract is really a pledge of mutual seriousness about women, about language, ideas, method, and values. It is our shared commitment toward a world in which the inborn potentialities of so many women’s minds will not longer be wasted, raveled-away, paralyzed, or denied Adrienne Rich).

This contract, which Rich envisions as intuitive, unwritten, and flexible, and that involves a commitment to taking education and students seriously, seems very different from how the University understands a contract between a student and teacher (as a fixed, not-quite legally binding agreement between a customer, the student, and a service provider, the faculty).  But, what if we imagined the syllabus as an ethical/intellectual (and not legal) contract? What would/could that look like?

In part 2 of my A Troubling Teaching Portfolio, I want to write a bit about the syllabus as contract. Bring in some of the discussion and literature about it. Offer up a few case studies. Experiment with how to reimagine it. As part of that re-imagining, I want to think about who the contract is between–a student and a teacher, a student and the other students, students/teacher/the University/the community? A learner and the texts/readings/ideas? 

I’ve added some sources to my Undisciplined Stories page.

Language and Water

From The Chronology of Water:

I thought about starting this book with my childhood, the beginning of my life. But that’s not how I remember it. I remember things in retinal flashes. Without order. Your life doesn’t happen in any kind of order. Events don’t have cause and effect relationships the way you wish they did. It’s all a series of fragments and repetitions and pattern formations. Language and water have this in common.

Lidia Yuknavitch, 28

This is an amazing book so far. And I really appreciate this remembering.

What might it mean?

Do you write to figure out exactly how you feel about a subject?


No, I know how I feel. My feelings are the result of prejudices and convictions like everybody else’s. But I am interested in the complexity, the vulnerability of an idea. It is not “this is what I believe,” because that would not be a book, just a tract. A book is “this may be what I believe, but suppose I am wrong . . . what could it be?” Or, “I don’t know what it is, but I am interested in finding out what it might mean to me, as well as to other people.”

Toni Morrison

From An Interview with Toni Morrison: Toni Morrison, The Art of Fiction no. 134

Processing, 25 February

I’ve been working on this book project this for almost four months (with big breaks for holidays and smaller breaks for unexpected difficulties) and it feels like it’s coming together. While I have a lot left to write, I seem to have figured out how to organize and structure my thoughts on teaching.

The Book Book, Volume One

I filled up an entire notebook with notes, quotations, ideas, questions, and “drawings” related to my writing project. It’s the first (of several?) processing notebooks that I’m calling, The Book Books. I’m hoping to scan the entire thing and put it online as part of this project. Is that too tedious? Hmmm….

A Tentative Table of Contents

Through the process of working through my teaching materials, I’ve realized that I’d like to combine my teaching accounts with my students accounts in one (not too big) book entitled, The Undisciplined Dossier: Detailed Records of a Life Beside/s the Academy. Here’s a tentative outline: TOC pdf