Anytime anyone asks me how the class I am teaching is going, I find that I often that my response is often a confused explanation. I usually explain that the class that I'm teaching only meets once a week and only for 2 hours. I find that the communication with my students is very limited outside of our weekly two hour discussion. I have office hours, yet no one ever comes. The only emails I receive from my students are to excuse their absence. During class, it is always the same students that continually engage with the material and the same students that sit quietly observing. I want to know what they are all thinking about the discussion, about the readings, and about the class. (I decided that the next time I teach, I NEED to have a blog set up so that there can at least be the option of having a forum available for students to participate, if they choose to, that is separate from the classroom setting). I find that I ask a lot of questions about the format of the class, how they are progressing with their work and if our class discussions are helpful. I value their opinion and I want them to "get something" out our two hours a week. They usually all nod and agree that they "like it." They don't challenge me, at all.
Very rarely will students question the readings or points of discussion (like when they briefly doubted Edén Torres' ability to speak of her experiences as a woman of color professor) but when they do, it is in such a polite manner that I feel that they are often masking what they really feel. I am a firm believer that it is in those moments of contention or disagreement that the most important and life changing learning happens, so when I ask more direct questions to get the students thinking about their readings of the text, they usually back down or stay quiet. You know when you read something that makes you think about things you may have not thought of before, and your think (or write in the margins), "Well what about this? What about that?" and you're left with nothing? This is what I often feel on Monday nights. I know that we are talking about deep stuff, complex issues; gender and sexuality, race, class, etc, but I cant help but wonder if the reason they do not engage is because they don't find it worthy of delving deeper. Could it be that they do not appreciate or value Chicana feminist theory and scholarship. I ask questions that I hope encourages them to think critically about their questions and/or their readings to elicit, what they seem to be hinting to...but instead, they shut down. I have to say that being that there is only one student who self identifies as Chicana and one student who self identifies as Latino, I can understand their initial hesitation of not wanting to speak generally about the concepts we are discussing. But what does it mean for the other 18 students who sit in the class (many of which are majoring in Chicano Studies) to just read the text and not have thoughts or reflections on what it all means. I mean, they may not be Chicana/os Latina/os, but they chose to be in the class for a reason...I always wonder, did they think it would be an easy A? Do they value the Chicana feminists we are reading who are theorizing from the body, using testimonio and personal narrative? Do they view this as worthy of critical thought? I guess what I am find myself grappling with is, as an Chicana instructor, the subject I am "teaching" is very close to me. I am invested in it on a very personal level. When my students don't say much or don't even seem to have an opinion on what we are reading, I begin to feel self-conscious. Why don't they love it? Is it that they are amazed to the point of silence by the powerful words of Anzaldúa and Moraga? Do the readings facilitate a reflection of their social location? When bell hooks talks about Freire's "conscientization" she translates this as a "critical awareness and engagement." Although Chicana feminist scholarship and Chicana/o Latina/o gender and sexuality speaks to a particular community, this community is situated in relation to the rest of the world. How can I as an instructor create a space that allows for critical awareness and engagement when we all seem to be seated at opposite ends of the table? Is there always an "interconnectedness" that occurs for students and teachers? What is at stake when students feel that they are "distant" from the subject(s)?