Teaching is Embarrassing: Manifesto on Higher Education for the Start of 2015

On September 16, for Convocation at Lehman College, I was honored to be awarded Teacher of the Year.  I gave a one minute acceptance speech.  I hope this serves as a welcome back to the blog and to the new year.  Thanks for reading, and a special shout-out to my Lehman, Graduate Center, and CUNY-wide colleagues, friends, and students for mentorship and support.

Teacher of the Year Acceptance Speech, Sept 16, 2015

Thank you so much. I’m truly honored by this award and grateful for the opportunity to share with you—very briefly—my personal philosophy about the meaning of teaching.

Here it is.

Teaching is incredibly … embarrassing. 

It’s embarrassing. I don’t mean the kind of day-to-day humiliations that could come with professor-student interactions (though there are plenty of those).

No.  I mean teaching is embarrassing in the existential sense, in the sense of having to confront who we are and everything we hold sacred.

I study great books and basic writing skills. At least that’s what I believe about five minutes before walking into my classroom.  But once I’m in the classroom, what’s great about my literature or essential about standards comes into contact with you: suspicious, brave, and brilliant Lehman students.  And then nothing about their beauty and truth seems so obvious anymore.

That’s when the work begins.  We read, write, and reflect together—sometimes clumsily, always rigorously—until this subject matter is embarrassed into a different existence, one that is more inclusive, real, and more beautiful and true than what came before.

Thanks to the digital revolution, we are all existentialists now: questioning who we are and what we have and will hold sacred in the near future.

As the academy confronts the radical shifts that the digital age brings, and accommodates and recreates accordingly, I hope to also question innovation that claims it’s possible to teach and learn at a distance—without the confusing, time consuming, and, well, embarrassing connections of classroom life. Because these connections make our disciplines—make us—human.

Thank you again.

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About Jessica Yood

I am an Associate Professor of English at Lehman College, The City University of New York (CUNY). Composition and Rhetoric is my primary field and research into the history and emerging role of writing in our contemporary culture continues to broaden my definition of this discipline. Work for my book project takes me into the history of literary criticism in America, complexity theories, the culture wars and the intellectual crises of the 1990s, and the enduring complexity of first-year writing and writers.
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