30 October 2008

Academic Dynamics

Today I had a visitor to one of my classes: a professor who came to observe and evaluate me. He came to the most difficult class I have this semester: a composition class populated by seeming hangers-out (i.e., one who hang out) and other scholastic misfits who are older than the just-out-of-high-school students in the composition class I teach in the morning.

The kids I teach in the morning are great. However, it's really difficult to get the afternoon students to work. They want to nudge, slap and banter each other rather than to do assignments or study. At least one of them is a parent; it doesn't seem to have matured her. Others often come in late. I had two such stragglers today, who came in a few minutes after class started. One came in for the first time in a couple of weeks and wanted to know, as soon as she walked in, whether I had any papers to return to her.

I know that the professor who obeserved me wasn't thrilled about that. I told a couple of other people about this. They all said not to worry, I'll be fine. I guess. But I still remember someone who did hold students' actions against me: the department chair at LaGuardia College. She wrote an evaluation that was about 80 percent denigration and 20 pervent damnation by the faintest of praise. I suppose lots of people have faced similar situations. I'm just not particularly good at dealing with them.

Also, that department chair wanted to get rid of me, but she knew she couldn't do it outright. So she wrote something damning enough to besmirch my reputation as an instructor, but not bad enough to prevent me from being rehired. That she left up to one of her deputies who, like her, pretended to accept me more than she actually did when I began my gender transformation. (The first thing that deputy said when I came to work as Justine was, "Well, my sister's gay...") Some so-called educated people do that sort of thing all the time: They know they can hate me but also know how to cloak or couch it in the right terms, which are almost always as fluffy as those little sweaters on the toy dogs fashionistas tote as accessories.

I'm sure there are people at the college in which I'm working now who'd like to be rid of me just as much as that department chair at La Guardia wanted me gone. (One of my colleagues, who also taught at LaGuardia, said the following when I mentioned the chair's name: "I'm surprised you even waste the motion in your tongue to talk about that thing, much less waste your mental energy thinking about it." And they think I'm a bitch!) At least they don't have the same kind of direct authority over me that she did. Well, now that I think of it, I've always had the feeling the provost didn't like me, but then I've heard he doesn't really like anybody.

At least the prof who observed me today doesn't seem to have any animus toward me. He's not aloof, but his facial expression never seems to change, either: more or less a lot of people's idea of an intellectual professor. But, in all of the previous encounters I've had with him, he's been very respectful. And he is in charge of the department's curriculum committe, on which I now serve.

Back to that class...They all know I'm transgendered. One of the students brought it up in class. I affirmed it and mentioned it only one other time: two weeks ago, when I gave them the "How badly do you want an education?" lecture. Some of them thought, and probably still think, that I am a child of privilege. I am, in the sense that my parents are being as supportive as they are of my change and that I lived 45 of my 50 years as a white male who was heterosexual, kinda sorta. But I'd bet that they have a higher standard of living than I had when I was a student. And some of them are getting financial aid I didn't get because some of it didn't exist in my day, and for what was available, my father made about $500 more a year than what was allowed for financial aid students.

But I digress. That I'm a white, middle-aged transgender woman renders me unworthy of respect in the eyes of at least four students, who sit together and act like junior high schoolers. (One of those students is the parent I mentioned.) I've tried speaking with them in every way I know. I tried the imperative voice, because some young people will respond to nothing else. The risk of speaking that way is that some people don't hear it when it, or any other kind of assertion, when it comes from a woman. And I've also tried the appeasing tone of voice. You know, what a lot of us women use most of the time: "Oh, could you please..." or "I'm sorry to be such a bother." No go with that one, either. Not even appealing to them as someone who understands how much better you have to be, and how much harder you have to work, when you're not a white heterosexual male from older colleges with bigger networks, seems to have influenced them.

In other words, I am dealing with a ghetto mentality, which unfortunately is shared by lots of people who don't live in what we think of as ghettos. People who operate from that mentality don't trust anyone who doesn't look, talk or act like themselves, or their conceptions of themselves, or how they think people are supposed to be. And, needless to say, their notions about race and gender are rigid because they're so intertwined with their class resentments--or, in my case, resentments over what they perceive my social and economic class to be.

They're not bad people, really. I just don't know what it will take to impress upon them that because they're darker and poorer, and come from different schools, than most of the people who will be interviewing them for jobs or other things they might want, they'll have to be even better than anyone else who's chasing those same things. I never would have understood that if I hadn't made my gender transition and dealt with some former professional colleagues and superiors who knew me as Nick.

The prof who observed me today didn't, but he knows about my transition. And it's never come up in any of our conversations. That's fine with me; he always gave me respect, possibly more than I deserve. After all, he is smarter, nicer and all kinds of other -er's than I am.

Now...as for the kind of evaluation I'll get...

No comments: