In teaching two courses at Queens College, each vastly different in population and the style in which I teach each course, I could not help by find many of the points that Martha Marinara discusses in her article, “Bi: playing with fixed identities” relevant to my experience. My 110 course, a general/mainstream class, is filled with students who have mostly come from private education or from upper middle class neighborhoods where they are used to hearing praise about their works. They do not take to criticism or feedback lightly, and gasp when I respond to their statements with questions of rebuttal which they mistake as attack. On the other hand, my 13o class, a SEEK funded course, has a population of solely minority students who juggle personal issues with simply making it to class everyday. They embrace being in the classroom as a privilege and escape from the turmoils they have to once again face upon dismissal. In fact, they relish at conversations that challenge their thinking, and take my criticism and feedback as leverage to do better and better, not just as writers and thinkers, but in their day-to-day lives.
Marinara brings about the phrase “structure and definition” (71) with relation to “cultural context” and “social identity”, concepts that I could not help but relate to each of my classes and my style of teaching based on the needs and wants of the students. The way that students produce work and thoughts are much reflected through their upbringings, social status, and culture. Having less opportunity causes students to have less of “structure and definition”, resulting in an outside-the-box way of thinking and writing. The routes of production are vast and zig-zaggy, yet much more expansive. On the contrary, the students with “structure and definition” are linear, have a limited thought process, and remain on the surface. These two contrasts in classes places me in the position of “the cold porridge” and “the hard pea”, the rock and the hard place. Where being unbiased and treating all of the students and lessons the same, it becomes difficult to not feel as though my appearance has much to do with the way the students respond to me as an instructor. Rather, I find that these circumstances with which I am faced with when dealing with students undoubtedly places me in a constant binary of being a professional and a minority, similar to Marinara’s bi-sexuality obligating her to be placed in “straight and professional” (72). The response of the students from my 110 course leaves me to believe they are in awe that someone like me is teaching them. However, my SEEK students view me as an equal, someone who they can relate to and learn from simultaneously.
Marinara’s statement, “no one can be both professional and working class” (73) resonates with me as no one can be both professional and minority. This constant tug of war that I struggle with more than enough sounds in my mind causing me to lose trains of thought, control of the discussion, allowing my students to feed of the fact that I feel like an imposter. However, I use this as fuel to be creative with class discussions, assignments, and group work. It allows for headway where I am able to gain control of the class by placing my fear at the center, and allowing students to place themselves in hypothetical situations of being outside their comfort zones. Their linear way of thinking now becomes jogged and rattled, where they find critical ways of finding solutions to those scenarios. They learn to see things from multiple perspectives, creating well-rounded individuals inside the classroom as well as outside.
Martha Marinara places her identity in conversation and allows it to be at play for her students to remove themselves from their comfort zones and jaded ways of thinking, keeping her in charge of the class while remaining true to her identity. In fact, her openness with her students proves to be effectual. I now relish in the fear that stepping into the classroom gives me, for it gives me room for personal growth as an instructor and especially raises the thinking and writing bar for the students.