You know, for as loud as I can be, I very rarely raise my voice. I’m naturally noisy, and my voice carries. Also, when I teach or speak publicly, I project from my diaphragm. I learned quickly that teaching is much more about speaking forcefully and being heard clearly than about just being loud.
The only time I can think that I yell is when I’m with my family and everyone is two feet from each other yelling happily.
With my students, only twice in the last few months have I really felt the need to lay down the law in class (and not privately). Their level of English isn’t high enough for an in depth conversation one on one, but there are certain things it would be foolish to tolerate.
Case in point, a few weeks ago, a (very strong) student went snooping through the stuff I keep on my desk. She was, weirdly, looking at the attendance, even though she didn’t know what it was with its odd notations.
If you let students rifle through your private space, you’re a buddy, not a teacher. And I really like this student, but I had to say, essentially, that is not okay. I didn’t raise my voice, but I held my voice firm and kept my gaze fixed on her. The tone of my speech was the key. The usual humor dropped out and she understood I was serious.
Tone is key.
The other time was today. There is another strong student who has serious attitude issues. Nothing violent, and she does all her homework, but she’s impudent and childish. I’ve let it slide because it’s not thaaat big a deal, but she makes audible comments about me in Mandarin and the other students refuse to rat her out for what must be rude stuff. This undermines your respect in the classroom.
And today, we were reviewing some adjectives and we landed on pregnant. As she tends to, she pointed at me and giggled, which, again, would be harmless if it wasn’t a pattern. I’m perceptive enough to know that there’s a sharp edge to the way she teases. My class and I poke fun at each other, but it’s obvious that it’s innocuous and her comments aren’t.
So, the tone switched, eyes fixed, and I told her she had to cut it out.
She went to her normal response, a nasty comment in Mandarin, and I said that that had to stop too. She tried one more time but that was it.
Everything was fine five minutes later, after a bit of silence. I know if I had yelled it would have been worse because I would have come off angry. And I remember from my own schooling that whenever I was called out in front of the class by the teacher it shut me right the hell up.
So to me, tone and focus is far more effective than yelling, especially if it’s an attitude issue or a minor transgression.
It has occurred to me that people see potential friends/partners as fixer-uppers and this will often lead to them being mistreated. I’ll have more to say on this later, but we need to work on ourselves, and avoid people who are a complete mess.
So someone just accused me of being gay because I “lack gusto.”
Let me explain.
I was in the deli downstairs walking up to the fridge to get a sixpack. A dude (whom I have seen before, but it’s not like we know each other) was getting a single beer, and, seeing him moving away from the beer, I just walked up behind him as he left. Apparently he thought I got too close, and he said, “Hey man you gotta say excuse me.”
Had it ended there, it’s a weirdly oversensitive dude. But then..
"I respect what you guys do but you can’t just be up on someone like that."
I should have said, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” but I was trying to figure out what the hell he was talking about. And then I was like, oh, he thinks I’m gay.
This is not the first or last time for this. I fit a handful of stereotypes I guess. Whatever.
But I did say, “Oh, dude, I’m not gay. I’m sorry I didn’t say excuse me sooner.”
"You’re not?" he said. "Well you’re kind of effeminate there. You definitely lack gusto."
Gusto. This is a thing people say at all, let alone to be paranoid and homophobic? Weird.
And of course, the whole assumption is offensive - not to me, I don’t care, but to gay folks, who he of course assumes are weak.
I do have a high voice, but I was in a hoodie and jeans. I figure I look like most young people, but it seems that in certain parts of the culture, rooting out the not-manly is a professional sport.
It’s sad. But at least, in his weird paranoia, he started with “I respect what you all do.” That’s better than I would have hoped.
We all have ugly thoughts. Not necessarily criminal ones like murder or rape, but I mean that someone who appears to be a member of a particular group does something we don’t like, and we get a quick flash of placing them into a stereotypical box.
This shows me two things: first, how depressingly pervasive bigotry is in human society, and second, that the only reason people allow themselves to hold onto these thoughts is cowardice. Because let’s get it straight: it’s easy not to challenge yourself to be better. Easy and normal. The fantasy where all such thoughts never occur is just that, a fantasy. The reality is we always have a choice to reject or indulge.
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A corollary of what I just said is that it’s damn foolish to assume that because you share certain cultural factors with folks you will get along. Yeah, it’s cool to nod at the person of your color on the street, but they have just as high a chance of sucking as someone whose skin (or some other characteristic) isn’t like yours at all. And hey, maybe you suck to them. Heh.
This is something I really learned in Korea, where I bonded with people over English, and that is a very thin bond, when you think about it.
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Going to make certain to increase my presence on here. I am going to commit to a substantive post every tues and thurs on my ride home from work.
So here’s today’s:
I think one of the truly fascinating things about what I have learned over the past two years is that the bigoted reaction to various groups of people is always wrong. But that pretending culture and upbringing has no effect is also incorrect (it’s not morally wrong like racism, but it’s factually false).
We shouldn’t be scared to acknowledge culture. But we must do it wisely. To say, ‘oh he’s korean, he’ll be like xyz’ is too simplistic. And to say, ‘he’s korean, he’s incapable of xyz’ is slavin-level bigotry. But, but, if we take a moment (ideally more than a moment but we don’t always have that) to step back and consider where a person might be coming from, then we stand a far greater chance of communicating effectively.
I think of a former friend of mine who got on my case about class privilege a few years ago. Back then I was certainly far less aware of how many ways said privileged manifested itself, and of course when someone calls you out for it it makes you uncomfortable, as it should. She was right that I needed to learn more about my good fortune at the hands of my parents.
She was wrong though when she took it to explain every single part of my personality. I am loud and verbose. I’m sure being privileged enhanced this, but my maternal family is much much louder than I am, and they did NOT grow up with privilege. I’m loud because my family is. My point here is, we can use categories and culture as a rough guide and a starting point, but we have to go deeper to really understand each other.
I do wish I’d managed to fix things with her, but this is just a lesson for me (and for you handful of readers) that we can’t ignore culture and the way we were raised, but we can’t think only of this when we seek to communicate with people beyond a surface level.
I have a business idea based on this. But I will tell you about that later.
Point is, the work of developing relationships can’t ignore culture nor can it be based entirely on it.
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Now that grad school is over, I can offer some pithy assessment. I’ll be stentorian and stoic when I give my speech, but here’s some fun.
Why 13? Because I like that number, fuck you. :)
1. Absolutely do not apply for, pay for, and attend graduate classes unless you can see a career ahead of you that the additional degree will help you achieve. You do not want to feel like you’re spinning your wheels in the mud.
2. Your professors are smart. They’re not all excellent professors. But you can learn something from all of them. Not everything, but something.
3. There will never be a level of schooling in which you are not, to at least some extent, doing work to fit some conception of what your evaluators want. This is both good and bad, but the point is you don’t work in a vacuum. Remember this.
4. It really makes life more interesting when your whole life isn’t consumed by one environment. I went part-time, but even if you go full-time, keep up hobbies, volunteer, anything so you’re not in a school bubble for years.
5. Bibliographies have sucked since I was eleven. They will always suck. There is no escaping this suck. Use the internet to help you. And speaking of the internet, Blackboard sucks too.
6. Organization is your friend. You’ve long since left behind the time when hand-holding is feasible or even productive. You fall behind and it’s on you.
7. “I work so much better at the very last minute” is not a thing you should keep saying. It happens sometimes, but try to avoid it being your MO. Because no one’s going to accept sloppiness.
8. Sleep. Eat well. Exercise. Be healthy. Unlike college, we’re adults now, and we need to act like it. ‘Oh this paper is preventing me from eating.’ No, you’re preventing you from eating. You’ll feel better if you treat yourself well.
9. Stop blacking out. Hangovers are no joke now. Heh.
10. I still have no idea what ‘The Courtyard’ is.
11. Cultivate productive relationships. With friends, lovers, peers, colleagues, family. Cut out the cancers and cherish the ones who matter. You don’t need 2000 facebook friends either.
12. You always have more to learn…
13. But I’m pretty damn smart. :)
Hopefully some of you who have been through grad school - or are going through it - will find this resonant.
No post Thursday - graduating, and speaking! - so enjoy your week, folks.