Tag Archives: discipline

Teaching and discipline

27 Oct

Like Mictlantecuhtli who was told by a colleague to be a good prison guard, most of the advice I’ve received since I started teaching young adults is about discipline and how to affirm one’s authority, usually by being harsh and taking measures against students who fail to comply. I have a big issue with that logic, even though one of my classes is turning out to be difficult to deal with. The problem, as usual, is one of context. What I am made to teach in that school is not a stimulating programme: we follow a textbook which students do not much like and I am asked not to skip any of the exercises. This means that most of our time is devoted to grammatical drills (the textbook’s attempt to make them look like fun falls flat) while very little time is left for what I wish to teach them, which is reading and witing. I want real debates about themes derived from literature, not a discussion on “do you prefer parties with family or with friends?” I cannot blame students for getting bored and discouraged and concluding that English at their school has very little value. In the problematic class, this is clearly made worse by the fact that they perceive my status of substitute teacher as having little credibility. They believe that they can manipulate me, disregard what I tell them, and that their behaviour will be of no consequence. In addition to that, some of the students in that class seem to pose problems with other teachers, which indicates a generally dismissive attitude towards school.

I thus end up teaching material that I think insults both their intelligence and mine and having to discipline students who object to what I am asking them to do when, actually, I believe that it is a healthy reaction to oppose mindless teaching that disregards the humanity of teachers and students alike.

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The disciplined writer

6 Aug

This time I am going to argue in favour of discipline, but only insofar as it comes from yourself. Being well organized – ensuring, for instance, that you make regular progress on your project – makes you more independant. You define your own goals and stay in charge of where your work is leading you. Waiting for deadlines to draw near forces you to work under external pressure and procrastinating is sure to make you feel guilty for engaging in important activities that are not work-related. You may even work all day, accumulating hours that aren’t productive at all. I like to get up early, write for a relatively short time (one to three hours) and then move on to different activities. Being disciplined allows me to retain a sense of potency in other areas of my life and remain my own master. Although intellectual work is crucial to me I also believe in praxis, in creativity, in community, and I need to protect my time in order to stay engaged in the world.

As I wrote in my previous post, there are exceptions to this, times when I feel it is necessary to reflect on my writing from a certain distance. I sometimes wonder if I truly own my academic project since at least some of my achievement will be claimed by the institution in the end. By being organized and limiting the time I spend on it, I nevertheless make sure that academia doesn’t control my entire life. Working efficiently forces me to stay focused on the essential, a skill which also allows me to steal time from paid jobs for personal projects on occasion.

The undisciplined writer

3 Aug

I have been working on an academic project for some time, and it generates a lot of anxiety: am I good enough, is this what the supervisor is looking for, is my work adequate? Such questions create a context of insecurity which compells me to ask for reassurance. It forces me to be dependant on voices of authority and hinders me from building self-trust and confidence. In order to become a productive writer, I have trained myself to set up a schedule, get up early in the morning, and track the results. However, discipline means nothing in and of itself. There is no need to scare myself into looking for validation constantly because it takes energy away from my work and stifles all creativity. When I started my project I believed that pushing myself intellectually would be liberating but, now that I am further along the process and more critical towards the institution, I can see that liberation will derive from my approach to my work and whether or not I have to give up my own agency, whether or not the project becomes an exercise in self-delusion and self-indoctrination. There are times when I neglect my work for some time because I am following a different train of thought, reading books that have nothing to do with it, looking at another theoretical school, or being creative. This used to make me feel guilty and inadequate.

To be “undiscplined”, as I intend to reframe it now, is to be a complete human being who refuses the atomization of her life. Knowledge is so compartmentalized that it can easily prevent one from making links between subjects and interpreting theory in terms of one’s experience. Yet whenever I express my desire to look into other things, the response I receive is “finish your project first”. As if meaning could be postponed indefinitely; as if no future obligations were lurking behind the current project; as if new activities and ways of thinking did not have the capacity to transform the project under construction. Is it because we fear the true potential of thought that we confine it to strictly delineated contours (in terms of field, methodology, and politics)? Are we so afraid of freedom that we need the constant reassurance that authority is on our side?