for Sarah Kendzior
Then my mentor summoned me to her office. She said she wanted to discuss my teaching.
I’d been a PhD student at the university for four years at that point, but this was my first semester teaching for them. She hired me, my mentor, when my former university passed me up a third time for a full-time promotion.
“And our decision had very little to do with teaching ability and popularity with the students,” my administrator said when she called on the phone.
I quit that afternoon with a simple email, after six years of teaching. Just like that. Done.
My mentor hired me almost immediately. She said she’d been wanting me to “shake things up” in her writing department for a very long time.
“This is where you belong, anyway,” she said when I called her, upset, asking for a teaching job. “This is your home.”
I was assigned the advanced writing classes—highly intelligent, jaded, almost cocky students. So sure of themselves and their prose writing, and even a few attempts at poems. I needed a way to rattle them, to earn their respect from the start. Fourteen weeks is not a lot of time to work with.
So I told them about my blog.
“I figure if I’m going to ask you to dig deep and write every day, and then allow everyone to read it,” I said as I scrawled my url on the board, “then I owe you the same vulnerability.”
I let them spend the rest of the first class reading my work.
They arrived to the second class with questions about sentence structure, punctuation, and transitions.
“I mean, how do you actually do transitions? I kinda still suck at that.”
They’d never actually known a real writer, they all said, let alone had one for a teacher!
From then on, the classes taught themselves. Students arrived early, eager to discuss their latest drafts. Those who were free afterwards stayed late to talk about what books they should be reading, or what books I should be reading, or how I could tweak one of my blog posts to make it so much more poetic. And there was a lot more talk about how to do transitions, of course.
It was around that time that a group of deans, grabbing some lunch in the student cafeteria, overheard my students raving to friends about my course, and about my blog. And I’m not sure how much time those stuffed shirts spent reading my work, but when they finished, they called my mentor and ordered her to put a stop to me.
So I arrived to what I thought would be a friendly lunch discussion with my friend and mentor about what I’d accomplished in just a few months, only to a find a stern-faced academic administrator who was in no mood for a discussion. I was to shut up and be lectured. And I was to remove my blog from the Internet or be immediately fired.
She said that since I’d been writing about my father’s war trauma, my child abuse survival, and my subsequent struggles with mental illness, there was a general agreement among the administration that I was presenting myself as a fraudulent mental health professional.
It was an accusation so silly that, given the stress of the moment, I lost my composure and started to laugh and shake my head. Then she added something, before I could respond, that instantly changed my mood about the university I’d been attending.
“And don’t give me anything about freedom of speech,” said this tenured director of a college writing program. “I’m from England. I still don’t get that stuff.”