I’m working out a lot of thoughts I’m having about my teaching gig this semester (I’m not a TA, I’m the actual instructor!). It’s been a heck of a journey, especially considering it’s what I would call a “non-traditional” course. It’s through my institution’s Learning Communities department and I have about twenty bright-eyed first year social science students trying to navigate their transition from high school to university life. I have a lot of freedom in the course, which is both awesome and terrifying. I’m also learning a lot about myself, including about my body in traditional classroom space.
Let’s start with the classroom I’m teaching in. Wait, let’s back up to the building that the classroom is housed in. I don’t know the history of the building, but it is mostly a residence hall that has a couple classrooms attached to it (I think they were a later addition to the building based on placement and door access). Because it is primarily a residence hall, most of the doors are locked 24/7 for safety. The classrooms are placed so there are specific doors that are open for ten minutes before the class time to allow the instructor and students that don’t live there in. While there are no stairs (and there is a sign that designates this as an accessible entrance), there is no button for the automatic door. I’m guessing if I had an electronic key for the black sensor on the outside wall it might open automatically, but that doesn’t help me as a keyless instructor.
The classroom itself has one of those sterile “modern yet traditional” vibes, which would be cool if I wanted to run my class in a lecture format all the time. It has a podium in the front corner that is too tall for me to comfortably use properly (right side for my student with the door on the left side). Actually, it looks a lot like the setup in this post I made about TAing, although my classroom has carpet. All of the tables are in five tight rows, with each table fitting two students each, and the rows are jammed flush with the right wall of the classroom leaving one aisle to get in and out of. There is no way to rearrange the tables for better group work, and if I had a student that had a mobility impairment, it would be difficult to find a place for them to sit comfortably (that’s ignoring personal seating preference, because that’s generally not even in the conversation about making a space accessible for students). The other problem with this is that this mobility impaired instructor can’t really “work the room” whether walking or rolling (wheeled desk chair or wheelchair).
Combined, they make a huge problem for me. I can’t see all of my students when I’m standing as I’m short. I really can’t see them when I’m sitting (and listening to my body). I can’t rearrange the tables into a circle so everyone can see everyone else. These problems made for a really rough first week of classes because I felt like I was being forced to ignore the people that I couldn’t see (which is really rough since it takes me a while to connect faces to names). It also became apparent that, while the university kinda sorta thinks about students with disabilities, there’s no thought to faculty or staff with disabilities.
Thankfully, I got this teaching gig from being scholarly colleagues with our director of learning communities, but where does this put me for any other academic job? Will departments that don’t know me personally hire me as a faculty member with my “special needs” in the classroom or office space? Will I just be another pain-in-the-ass gimp with a graduate degree barely scraping by with serial adjuncting as long as I don’t rock the boat too much with my activism or my needs/wants in a classroom?
I know that the change in direction in my work from mostly body size/fat studies to mostly disability studies (all with the physical activity focus) will mark me in a specific way…I think a lot of disabled scholars studying disability deal with this, whether implicitly or explicitly. It will likely be assumed when I enter kinesiology-focused spaces that I study disability because of how I move through the world (which could be a whole different post honestly, especially because a Deaf friend and I have had discussions about it).
For the moment, I’m trying to not focus on that and just trying to focus on what matters in my life right now….work/school/life/health balance, dance, getting over public speaking anxiety so I can focus on being a better instructor, finances, putting together my dissertation committee… 🙂