Pedagogical Disposition of the Civil Servant

Over the lunch hour, I was lucky enough to catch a short talk by Dale Bauer who worked through her ideas about failure in the classroom. Not failure as liability, but failure as productive pedagogical constituent. Dale does this all the time: develops new ideas that relate directly to practice.

The talk had many dimensions; one I'm still thinking about had to do with a perceived lack of gratefulness on behalf of students in response to the work and attitudes we bring to the classroom. In turn, this got me thinking about this somewhat odd set of terminological relationships:

whore is to sex trade worker as teacher is to _________?

Now, I know this is a weird-and-very-GRE-equation, but I started playing with it because Dale got me thinking about a theme that's come up on this blog (and in the comments) before: how teachers/instructors/professors seem viewed as service workers in the US as opposed to social servants. (In fact, TT clarified this distinction for me at one point.) This frustrates many of our own self conceptions and leads to repeated friction.

In teaching future teachers of various kinds this semester, both at the grad and undergrad levels, I want to try to start developing a Pedagogical Disposition of the Civil Servant that can function as a strategic positioning that might militate against being viewed as service workers without demeaning those in the service industry. That last part is the catch.


  1. Anonymous9:33 PM

    Anecdotes: at Princeton, faculty members were occasionally referred to as 'pods' ('points of delivery') by the undergraduates, and my advisor told me that he had once been told by a particularly, ahem, self-assured student that there was but little difference between a teacher and a filling station attendant.
    Not much better at UIUC when I was there; we were too often tallied as 'FTEs'!

  2. Anonymous10:49 AM

    I'm always so pleased to see this kind of topic discussed by educators--who seem to shy away from the problem as unsolvable, all too often. -artdumz

  3. Anonymous10:53 AM

    Education in the U.S. (and Canada) is, bizarrely, a field that many times dissuades topnotch talent from getting education degrees. When I met TT, it was in an education program, and the soul-sucking was audible every day such that only those who were impervious to soul-sucking could hold on and make it through the program. Broadening/flexibilizing requirements and the ways in which qualifications or degrees can be earned might be a good starting point. -tt

  4. i'm filling in the blank:


  5. I'm interested in your use of the term "whore," and wonder what alternative valences of meaning might have been offered by "hooker" or "prostitute." When I was at Pitt, Megan Foss was a friend and a colleague, though I'm sad to have now fallen out of touch with her: but her coming-to-literacy narrative, "Love Letters," is a text I teach whenever I get the chance. It's an angry and conflicted text that describes how Megan came to literacy as a heroin-addicted prostitute in jail, one that refuses the conventional epiphany-and-uplift narrative, and a harrowing and complicated account that always disturbs -- in productive ways -- my students. I've only had one opportunity to teach it in conjunction with her brilliant revenge narrative, "The Monster Between Us," but I hope I'll have that opportunity again. The events of the text are compelling enough, but Foss combines them with a feminist reading of Frankenstein that is absolutely brilliant.

  6. Wow, so much to think about here!

    My use of the term "whore" was not my own but Dale Bauer's -- she was talking (the other day) about trying to convince students to refer to sex trade workers differently. My thoughts were that our own self depictions (terminological) could map our labor more effectively.

    Off to find a copy of "Love Letters"! Thanks!

  7. Gotcha -- and I agree with the point you're making about questioning vocations' self-representations. Maybe the obvious place to go would then be "education worker" -- but calling attention to "work" introduces class associations with the working class or "productive" classes.

    "Love Letters" is in Creative Nonfiction, I think number 9, by the way.

  8. megandmolly9:14 AM

    hi, this is megan foss and i would like to than you for the postive words. i quit writing for a while and then got a piece in CNF #28. should you ever want a writer's contribution when you teach love letters or the monster between us, letme know. who ever it is in pittsburgh that has lost touch with me -- o'm at Megan.Foss@wwu.edu. again thanx for the positive strokes folks.