As I complete the first year of my doctoral program, I have begun to focus on gaining university teaching skills in preparation for future academic work. My goal is to gain a full time academic teaching position when I graduate, or even before graduation when my course requirements are done. So, I reached out to my networks and was offered a part time teaching position in a small graduate university.
I recently began my part time teaching position and really, to my surprise, found a less than receptive audience. Upon first glance, several of the students seemed somewhat disappointed in the fact that I was their professor. There were looks in the audience of challenging my authority, students turning around to speak to others in the next rows, whispering, and some slight eye rolling. This is one of the least receptive audiences I have ever encountered. This was not junior high; this was not high school. This was a group of university postgraduate students.
I realize that I look younger than I am, but after teaching students for the past 11 years from junior high school English to guest lecturing at universities during my masters degree years, I can't believe that I still look that young. Not only that, but I am a woman of color which seems somehow to provide freedom for these students to look at me with such disregard. I was just quite shocked at the blatant disrespect by the students. I receive more respect and attentiveness at professional academic conferences I present at than this. I am realizing that I have to walk in with more of a sense of presence, more aggressiveness, more authority to be respected, and maybe that will help in the future.
I was well prepared for my talk. I had prepared a structured syllabus and a detailed lecture on the key topics and learning objectives of the class. I was open to questions about the course. There was nothing there to suggest any illegitimacy in my capacity to teach the course. I am confident in my qualifications. In addition, I am a colleague with the previous professor and know the details of how the course has worked in the past.
I decided to go online and search for other experiences of professors of color and they way they are regarded in the classroom. Not to my surprise, there has been some recent and significant work published on the topic, letting me know that we are definitely not alone. One article entitled "Teaching in the Line of Fire: Faculty of Color in the Academy" describes how age, race, and gender play out in students' perceived lack of legitimacy of their female professors of color to create an "unwelcome and hostile" teaching environment for faculty of color. http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/HE/TA09LineofFire.pdf
In another article, Chavella Pittman sites distinct hostilities by white male students against women faculty of color, stating that these classroom experiences are at the intersection of where gender and racial oppression take place. Darn it -we may also have a bit more to look forward to at the end of the semester as course evaluations tend to be harsher for female professors of color than our white counterparts.
Be of Good Cheer. Although I am aware of these instances, in order to succeed I keep hope and decide that working within it and breaking through it is my goal. Networking can be seen as a support for sanity in these situations, knowing that we are not alone. I enjoyed reading about Professor Robyn Rodriguez's and Dr. Florez's determination to start a faculty women of color group on the Rutgers campus, http://robynrodriguez.com/2013/08/30/resources-on-the-challenges-women-of-color-faculty-face/ , as well as Dr. Beverly Palley's site providing tips on how to start a mentoring program for faculty women of color. I particularly appreciate her quote of comfort, strength and assurance, "Be of Good Cheer". http://www.ijournal.us/articles/issue-30/ijn86/mentoring-new-faculty-women-color-predominately-white-institutions.html
What these students think of me is none of my business. What is my business is teaching them the skills I was hired to teach, whether they are interested in the subject or not. My goal is to get them engaged in the topic and to finally apply the knowledge to their lives and future work. My job is to give them a letter grade based on their participation and cooperation with the guidelines, regardless of what they think of me.