Training Resilience

I first encountered the idea of resilience as a construct in Resilience: Queer Professors from the Working Class. It is cast there--and in other books with words like "trauma" in the title--as a personality trait that can only be achieved retroactively. That is, you can't just decide to be resilient. It's like the Greek idea of honor. You can't bestow honor on yourself. Someone else has to give it to you. And if my quickie lit review gives any sketch to the theoretical landscape, pain gives us resilience. There's no prior method, no preceding knowledge. Resilience is the outcome of cumulative painful negotiations. (I am not, by the way, in agreement that "that which does not kill us makes us stronger." In fact, that which does not kill us makes us too weak to fend off the next attack.)

I'm unsatisfied with the idea that we can't--that I can't--operationalize coping enough to make it pedagogically useful. What I see is that many good young teachers leave teaching before they've developed the resilience it requires. The burnout rate for public school teachers is still something like three years. (And with as many strictures as they face, it's no wonder.) In many cases, resilience can mask psychologically dangerous situations, but it's a fact of teaching: there's risk, emotional and psychological, so there's the potential for trauma (such as it is; ask me how I feel about blue-collar jobs and injuries if you really want to know how I feel).

The best methods I can come up with for training resilience in new teachers are 1) authentic professional development and 2) collaboration; that is, by asking young scholars to engage in the types of situations they would as professionals, they take risks and develop resilience, because rejection is a fact. I was crushed when someone said something snarky to me at my first academic conference. Now, though, not so much. But it took many conferences, many perceived slights, endless agonized evenings over student papers and emails--running class discussions through my memory to focus in on potential problems--to get there. I'm poking my way through Collaborative Resilience: Moving through Crisis to Opportunity (Goldstein 2012) tonight, and it seems that community is as important as ever. Community in my context implicates cohort building and peer mentoring. I hope I'm offering analog opportunities to my students, but it's nice to get confirmation that our approach is useful beyond community building.


It's Okay to Go

I've put off writing here, but I've been writing everywhere else. Chances are, you've gotten email from me recently. Today. In the last 20 minutes. Email is our communicative currency. We're just symbol trading monkeys anyway, but now we can trade really fast.

Today, in the class I teach, we talked about what to do after the MA is finished. The only options are not 1) enter another graduate program or 2) enter the academic job market. But young scholars are often made to feel that leaving academia--even if they plan to return later--is some kind of once-out-never-in deal.

Well that's just not true. It may be the case that leaving academia and trying to return after a few years as an instructor presents a challenge, especially if the time has been spent doing work that can't directly influence or inform teaching and scholarship. But there's a big wide world out there, and sometimes the best lesson we can learn is how to find our place in it. Graduate school forces that consideration for some people. First we must know what we value and need to live happily. Then we can fit our careers and lifestyles into that plan. Certainly, jobs aren't always fun, and sometimes we have to take jobs that we hate to buy food. Of course. But disabusing new teachers and scholars of the notion of "academic-as-an-identity" (instead of "academic-as-an-approach") can be healthy, even if all it offers is an option for consideration. (Shout out to Teresa Hooper, whose fantastic conversation about academic identity I copied entirely in the previous sentence.) This point is especially relevant as I recall a conversation with a young woman last year: "Well, when I finish my MA, I want to have a baby, but I want to have it in May, so I can maybe adjunct in August, and they'd never have to know." It makes me sad that there are some institutions where her secret baby is a secret best kept close.

As job season ramps up and the jobs become ever-more contingent, I do wonder if this opting out isn't a form of self-advocacy.  It's a bit Timothy Leary, okay, but consider the power of placing well-trained teachers and scholars in public spaces. Teachers and scholars with knowledge of rhetorical situations and exigency and responsive (not reactive) discourse. These are exactly the people we need in the public sphere.