Friday, September 5, 2014

In with the new: first-year students, where's your parachute?

Welcome to the new semester, friends! As I'm sitting at my old desk, in my new home, contemplating the oodles of class prep I have to do for my new classes, I cannot help but feel like all this newness is wearing me down. Yes, newness is exciting; yes, it breathes all kinds of beneficial air into one's life, making one feel refreshed, etc.; yes, I'm lucky this newness was my choice, and doubly-lucky to have found some work in my chosen newness. But all this newness grates on me, because there's really no old to provide grounding, bearings, or whatever your favourite metaphor for routine might be. All this newness also jolts me quadruply, because there are four of us, and we all used to rely on a dance choreographed by at least of couple of years of fine-tuned repetition. So now, we're all still up in the air, franticly grasping for outstretched hands to stabilize the quick mid-air rotation, hoping the other's other hand holds on to the parachute.

But this is not all: the new semester brings along a host of academic newness. As I look into my students' eyes, most of them first-year, first-semester participants in the post-secondary air ballet, I can already start perceiving more outstretched hands hoping I'm the one with the safe descent connection, that my class will hook them up, and reveal the secret to either safe landings or previously unknown air buoyancy. I tell them I'm new, too, but there's safety in numbers. Yet the hope does not completely leave them, even though the academic integrity speeches invariably gnaws at it.

So I cannot help wondering what my role is, as an instructor of a compulsory, across-the-board course for first-year-students, and how that role fits with my position as contract academic faculty, and the bigger picture of post-secondary education in this moment. What is the extent of my responsibility to these first-year students--beyond the obvious teaching and learning that needs to happen this term--and how does it square with my role within the institution employing me on a part-time, temporary, contract-bound basis? In other words, how do I make the link to my non-existing parachute, and is part of my responsibility to reveal the cruel reality, that, really, none of us have even seen the parachute in a long time, although stories of it still endure?

Change management is a hot topic in business these days: it's one of those competencies that emerge every few years, and takes prominence, until its currency becomes completely evacuated through overuse. Like excellence. Like leadership. Change management strikes me as particularly insidious, because it naturalizes the notion that we should no longer even hope or strive for any stable, equitable employment. Ironically, the Deleuze-Guattarian theoretical stance of my dissertation sought to debunk the deeply ingrained myth of stable, ossified subjectivity, and show the reality of a more fluid and flexible way of being-in-the-world. This reality was meant to prevent all kinds of complexes, subjugations, and discriminations, and enable becoming. Just like so many other ideas and practices (Yoga, Mindfulness, etc.), we had a nice time of it, that is, until the grossing potential was revealed to business visionaries.

What do we do, friends, at this beginning of the academic year, to equip first-year students, and maybe even ourselves with some form of parachute? Got any advice?

1 comment:

  1. "Change management is a hot topic in business these days: it's one of those competencies that emerge every few years, and takes prominence, until its currency becomes completely evacuated through overuse. Like excellence. Like leadership."

    Aren't these just three really useful (mandatory) skills? Change management doesn't "naturalize the notion that we should no longer even hope or strive for any stable, equitable employment," it does the opposite - disrupts the short-termism that dominates much of our society(ies). In stable, equitable employment, things do still change all the time: legal regimes, governments, new and old co-workers, the economy. That's the world, no?

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