Affect & Inclusivity in the Classroom

Affect, both genuine and performative, is essential to my teaching. It probably goes without saying that one needs to enter the classroom fired up with enthusiasm for the topic at hand. That should be the case if it’s just about teaching film terminology and/or cussing out deeper, ideological messages. As I gotten older, I’ve also become less inhibited about sharing my gut-level reactions because I want to model for students that we all have them and they can provide a useful starting point. I’ll show it, for instance, if I find a film sequence or literary passage particularly moving or, alternately, very problematic. If the latter is the case, I make it explicit if I’m coming at things from a gendered point of view. If they don’t like that lens, I tell them they should feel free to let me know if they think I’m just being a strident feminist. That way the door to disagreement remains open and I can demonstrate, regardless of what gets said at that point, that I’m genuinely open to any and all responses. Alternately, if a student tells me that Ethan Edwards in The Searchers is a very racist character, rather than nod emphatically in agreement I put on my poker face and say something like, “That’s intriguing. Tell me more.” Obviously, I can’t always control the ways that students take on the mantle of provocateur, but I can make it clear that that posture always pricks my ears up. Above all, I try and model respect for students and a baseline humility that I hope fosters classroom collegiality. “Citational practices” are relevant for me in this regard. For me that means, in the straightforward sense, taking inspiration from and citing important thinkers that have influenced how I think about identity. But if students have written reaction pieces before class, I also try to cite their ideas and blend them with my own so that their voices are already present and already matter in class discussion. That kind of inclusivity hopefully impacts their interactions both in the classroom and beyond. 

—Maggie McCarthy, Davidson College

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