Is this what middle-age means as an educator?
I’m on the downside of 40, and am increasingly out of sort with the culture in which I live and teach. In areas of life in which I am constant, the world evolves quickly. I’ve become a 10% guy in a 90% world. I used to wear a men’s size medium and now I fit into a small. Everyone but me seems to wear headphones when running. I wear shirts that aren’t non-iron.
There’s a good bit of privilege in my 10% world, I recognize, but it still feels odd to be so far out-of-sync with parts of U.S. culture. When it comes to teaching, I feel equally out of sync, for very different reasons. As digital humanities scholars race ahead in developing new tools and pedagogies, I’m trying to keep up, translating this newness into digestible lessons for my students. At the same time, I teach at a college that is not racing ahead when it comes to digital pedagogies. There is an openness amongst many professors, yet I am one of the leading instructors on matters digital. So I feel like I’m behind 90% of the digital history teachers nationally but in the the top 10% of teachers on digital issues at my school.
There’s a great bit of ink I could spill on privilege, leadership, and cultural equity. I have the time to run, the time or money to press shirts, and access to technology that let’s me evaluate where I am as a digital history instructor. That said, understanding where I am situated matters as it shapes my response to changes around me. For general cultural changes, I live and let live. I buy the small shirt and don’t try to make that mean anything other than I have a shirt that fits. Yet for teaching, I need to reconcile or at least develop greater mindfulness of how I engage various groups. If I’m in the vanguard, I need to rally friends to follow. “Look I can do it, you can to.” If I’m in the rearguard, I need constantly check in with the main host, “what are we doing, where are we going, how are we getting there? And it is a battle we’re fighting, against fear, apathy, and ignorance.