264. Collaborative Rubric Construction

Students may not immediately trust faculty who they perceive as being different from themselves. In this episode, Dr. Fen Kennedy joins us to discuss how collaborative rubric construction can be used as a strategy for building and maintaining trust. Fen is an assistant professor of dance at the University of Alabama and the author of a chapter in Picture a Professor, edited by Jessamyn Neuhaus.

Show Notes

John: Students may not immediately trust faculty who they perceive as being different from themselves. In this episode, we explore how collaborative rubric construction can be used as a strategy for building and maintaining trust.


John: Thanks for joining us for Tea for Teaching, an informal discussion of innovative and effective practices in teaching and learning.

Rebecca: This podcast series is hosted by John Kane, an economist…

John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…

Rebecca: …and features guests doing important research and advocacy work to make higher education more inclusive and supportive of all learners.


John: Our guest today is Dr. Fen Kennedy. Fen is an assistant professor of dance at the University of Alabama. They are also the author of a chapter in Picture a Professor, edited by Jessamyn Neuhaus. Welcome, Fen.

Fen: Hi both of you, it’s good to be here.

Rebecca: Our teas today are:… Fen, are you drinking tea?

Fen: I am because I saw that there was a tea list, so I am drinking one of my favorite teas, which is a Lapsang Souchong. And because of the theme of my chapter, I have it in my wonderful mug that says, “What a beautiful day to respect other people’s pronouns.” Cheers.

Rebecca: Cheers. That sounds wonderful.

John: It does and you know, I’ve wanted to drink that tea on here, but I was never quite sure how to pronounce it. [LAUGHTER] I do drink it fairly often, it’s a really nice tea. I keep it separate from the others so the smoke flavor doesn’t infuse the other teas.

Rebecca: See, unlike you, I just embarrass myself by trying to say things I don’t know how to say [LAUGHTER].

Fen: I have a wonderful tea from Plum Tea Company, which is the Picard tea, which is a variant of Earl Grey, which is wonderful.

Rebecca: Nice.

John: And a nice nerdy thing to do too. Many of our guests would appreciate that aspect of it, and we would too. I’m drinking a wild blueberry black tea today.

Rebecca: Oh, That sounds nice, John.

John: It’s very good.

Rebecca: A little different than your normal. I just have Earl Grey today.

John: But not the Picard variant.

Rebecca: Yeah, unfortunately, I didn’t know that that was an option.

Fen: It’s wonderful, I think there’s kind of sweet orange notes in it. I’m a big fan.

Rebecca: That sounds really good. We might have to look, John.

John: So we invited you here, today, to discuss your chapter in Picture a Professor entitled “Collaborative Rubric Creation as a Queer Transgender Professor’s Tactic for Building Trust in The Classroom.” You begin the chapter by noting that transgender and non-binary faculty are rarities in higher education. Could you describe some of the challenges that you face as a non- binary transgender faculty member, who’s also a first-gen student and an immigrant?

Fen: Well, that’s a mouthful. [LAUGHTER] My chapter title is a mouthful and then the question is a mouthful, and well, I will do my best. And so well, I thought about this in advance. And I could give you some of the easiest figures and more objective measures of those obstacles. For example, I worked out quite recently, as an immigrant on an H1 visa, which is a work visa, but not a citizenship or residence visa, you are not allowed to work outside of the contract that you’re hired for. So any work that I’ve done outside of the university, I have had to donate my income to someone else, or just refuse payments. And I worked out that with the money I have lost being an immigrant, I could have put down a second deposit on a house.

Rebecca: …not insignificant.

Fen: No, so it’s not insignificant. The other thing that I think a lot of people don’t realize is that as an immigrant, you can’t really buy your books unless you absolutely know you’re staying in the country. So during my PhD, when you want to look up something, you can’t turn to your wonderful bookshelf and pull down the book that you own, it’s write to the library and see if it’s in stock and see when you can get it. So it’s this little logistical things. And I know we’ll get to gender because the chapter is about gender. But on the first-gen student, something that comes to my mind is: I was in a teacher training and the person giving this training said, “Well, you’re first-generation students, they’re really going to struggle in the classroom, you’re going to know who they are, they’re going to have a hard time knowing how to do things.” And I sat there getting my PhD, getting ready to teach and thinking, I’m not sure I like how I’m being described as someone who’s going to struggle who’s going to have these challenges, and no one has ever said, What advantages does a first-generation student have? What do they bring that other students lack? And so I think sometimes one of the big things is that you’re perceived as a challenge, you’re perceived as someone who’s going to struggle, which means that when you do something that’s original, or creative, or critical, often the response is to say, “Oh, that’s because you don’t understand” rather than, “Oh, this could be a productive direction that other people might want to take also.”

Rebecca: Those are some really good points. I think many of our students are labeled in all kinds of ways that prevent us from seeing all that they have to offer, and how much they can move our classrooms forward and how much we can learn from our students and not have this expectation that they’re going to fail. I really appreciate that you put that right out front.

Fen: I think also, when you follow that line of thinking, a lot of teachers… and I think the book is getting towards this point as a whole… a lot of teachers plan to teach to the students they want rather than planning to teach the students they have. So when they design syllabi, when they design policies, when they design their standards for the course, they picture an ideal student and say how would that student fit in? Rather than saying, “Okay, who is coming into my classroom? What do they need when they get out of it? And how do I take them on that journey in a way that makes them feel engaged, delighted, enthusiastic, valued.” And so we’re talking about Picture a Professor, but maybe not picturing our students is another thing that we could work on.

John: That could be a sequel, Picture a Student.

Fen: Absolutely.

John: I think when we all start teaching, we often have some assumptions about what our students are going to be like. But the reality of our students is often quite different. And that can lead to some challenges for both students and faculty. Following up on that a little bit, what do you do to try to find out more about who your students are.

Fen: So one of the things I tried to do is, think of the people that I hung out with, in my day-to-day life. I hung out with other immigrants, I hang out with first-gen students, I hang out with queer people. And I know about their barriers to coming into education. I hear a lot of people who’ve had really, really awful experiences. And I think about myself, and I was like, “What is the kind of classroom environment that I would have enjoyed? What is the kind of classroom environment that they would have felt happy in and at home in.” So I start with trying to make the door to the classroom as wide as possible, rather than keeping it narrow and forcing students to fit their way through. And then the other thing, I think, what I do is, I started university teaching when I was 23 and I was younger than some of the people in the room with me. And so I didn’t feel like I could step into a classroom and have authority from any degree that I had, or any age that I had, or any status that I had. And so really, if I wanted my students to do what I wanted them to do, I felt like the other end of the deal was I had to know more and teach it really well. And so coming from that perspective, I think, and not thinking of myself as entitled to teach and not thinking of myself as entitled to be at the front of the room, but having to work to be at the front of the room. And part of that work is making a space for the students who are in the room with me. And so I don’t have particular always things that I do. But I try and improve my classroom every semester and make it better for more people.

Rebecca: One of the things that I really appreciated about what you’ve said, Fen, is an underscoring of the term “delightful” multiple times, so that it’s not just something that a group of students can deal with, or it’s survivable, [LAUGHTER] which I think is maybe the bar that is often set, but actually, that you set the bar at delightful. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

Fen: Well, it helps that I’ve always really liked being in classrooms. And school for a while was my safe space. Which means that I, in some ways, have in my past, lacked empathy with people who have not found that and who have not liked learning. And it took some hard experiences for me to realize, “Okay, this is something I’m going to have to step away from, because we’re taught often, if you don’t like learning, you’re lazy and it’s something of a personal failure, and you could be doing better.” And then realizing how many people are in a situation where they are taught that academia hates, and why would you want to constantly be in a space that hates you, for things that you have no control over? But when I start to teach things, I think, “How can I share this subject that I find really cool? How can I share it in a way that conveys my enthusiasm to the people I’m teaching it to.” And that’s fairly easy in a dance technique class, because dance is great fun, and also hard work. It is more difficult when you are teaching graduate critical theory. It’s more difficult when you’re teaching the required history course. But I love critical theory and I love history. And I find them really fun. And I think part of the way that you get people to enjoy the classroom is to give them ownership of the material and allow them to not step back at a distance and see the knowledge that is far off that they must aspire to, but put them in the middle of it and say this is work that we’re doing together. I say that I try and teach history, not to teach students history, but to teach the historians of the future, which means we’ve got to have debates and we’ve got to have conversations and we’ve got to have feelings and opinions that are legitimately ours rather than the ones we think we ought to have. [LAUGHTER]

John: That brings into the topic of your article, which is collaborative rubric creation with students. Could you talk a little bit about how you started doing that and how it’s been working?

Fen: Yes. So I really came to this idea of collaborative rubric creation because I was assigned a choreography course to teach for the first time and that gave me the opportunity to think philosophically about how does one grade choreography? [LAUGHTER] How do you grade someone making art? Because that is always… and I talked about this a little bit in the chapter… that’s always a big problem of a question in creative disciplines. There’s not a qualitative answer. There’s not a specific right or wrong. So how do you start to design that. And I must here, give a shout out to Jessica Zeller, who is a phenomenal dance teacher and also a really important voice in the conversation around what we call ungrading, and thinking about how to take down some of these structures of ranking students in boxes. And so looking through her ideas and trying to work out myself, and I thought, “Oh, what if we start the semester by talking about what art means to my students and what they want to do as choreographers,” because not every student wants to be a high-art experimental installation, interdisciplinary maker, even I kind of wish that more people were that thing. I don’t want to make them into me, I want to make them into the best version of them, which means I’ve got to understand what they want And also sometimes knowing that they don’t have exposure to all the things that they might want to be. So what’s the balance there? And I remember the first time I did it, I kind of structured it into their creative process, their self-directed learning and their citizenship. And what happened when we talked about the three different categories is they ran into all their assumptions about what they thought dance was. And so somebody had put down that an excellent choreographer uses partnering. They’ve done these wonderful, like written out on paper, and I said, “Well, do you think all expert choreographers use partnering? Do you think a piece is less if it doesn’t?” And they were, “Oh, wait, no, that doesn’t work.” And I said, “Okay, so what is the skill that’s being used? And we boil down, and so we got past these things that use partnering, like use motif and repetition, and started to realize what was underpinning those ideas, not the ingredients of what choreography had to include, but how you went about making choreography. And one of the big moments for the class was actually when we talked about citizenship, because they talked about “Oh, show up on time and answer all the questions.” And I said, “Well, with that in mind, how can you be a good citizen on a bad day? How can you be a good citizen when you are sick, or stressed out or having a panic attack?” And they went “Oh,” and so rather than, again, these indicators of good behavior and good practice, what is underpinning that or with a sense of being responsible for the space and yourselves and others, which sometimes is going to look different? It might be, “you have to email me and let me know if you’re not being there so I can shuffle the group’s around.” It might look like, “I’m going to take it notes for my friends and catch them up,” it might be “I’m going to zoom into class on a day that I can’t make it to class.” And that is a professional way of being a good citizen. And so it became a really generative conversation. And I went, “Okay, I’m going to do this every time I can.”

Rebecca: Sounds like a really productive conversation, and probably really pushing students to embody what it means to be a choreographer in a way that they wouldn’t otherwise approach the class.

Fen: I think it also gets them past the answers that they’ve just kind of learned by rote. And when I do this in technique classes, I start off by asking them, “What do you want to learn?” And usually, there’s a whole range from people who want to do their situps and their push ups at the start of class every day and get strong, there’s the people who would absolutely not like to do that. There’s the people who want to improvise, there’s the people who do not want to improvise. And when we only kind of pull it together, we see where the biggest priorities are and where, and what’s actually falling off the edges. And then I say, “Well, how do you want to be assessed on learning those things?” And so then, rather than their assessment criteria,being their straight knees and their wonderful athletic posture, we get things coming out, like “my problem solving,” “my adaptability,” “my ability to set a goal for myself and meet it within the range of my body.” And I really enjoy getting them to set goals that they’re invested in, so they understand that they have reasons behind them that they can then work towards, because they’re what they want to be working on anywhere.

Rebecca: One of the things you said a minute ago, in two different contexts was the students don’t always know where they want to be, or who they might want to be, or what kind of choreography they might want to make. How do you help students down that journey to discover and explore? Because that seems very tied to your rubric and your strategies here.

Fen: Yes, it is. And actually, it’s this process of creating trust. And I say that the rubric helps create trust, because they know that they’re not going to have a surprise. But if we’re all invested in the same goals, then we’re going on a path that we all kind of want to be on, which means that I get to say, “Look, I’m going to try something with you might seem really silly, and I want you to try it, I want you to try it for 15 minutes, and then we’ll talk about it, will you trust me enough to be really silly with me for 15 minutes?” And usually the answer is yes, because we’ve already agreed that we’re on the same page with what we want to get out of the experience. And I’m not going to suddenly swerve off into a different direction on my own agenda. So I think this idea of creating trust and buy-in allows me to expose students to a lot of different things, and a lot of different ideas, not because I’m saying this is right and this is where I want you to go even if you don’t understand why. But in the service of these goals that we’ve agreed upon, that we share, I think this will be helpful.

John: So it sounds like this process of rubric creation is not just creating this sense of trust, but you’re also breaking down some of their preconceptions about what the class is going to be about. Do you ever have trouble getting students to converge on a rubric? You mentioned that students come in with very different expectations, How do you resolve some of the differences in those expectations as a class?

Fen: Well, sometimes we just do all of them, if we have time to take different approaches, and we say, we’re going to compromise here, we’re going to do this some days, and not this other days, like I’ll do your situps, a nice, stretchy, soft, warm up, and we’ll see which one we like better. And at the midterm, we’ll check in and we’ll decide which one we like. And if we want to shift things. So, I think that’s how we’re resolving. And sometimes we sit down, we talk about it until we find out what we actually want and where the middle ground is. And on occasion, I say “There are limits what I can provide, and I cannot provide this experience for you. It is out of my skill set. Sorry, this is where you can go and get it.” And I think that two threads that I’m hearing myself say that I want to pull out the idea that things can change, that what you decided at the beginning can shift if it’s not working, and that I am willing to have limits in front of them and say, “This is what I can do and this is what I can’t.” And I think that’s really useful for them as well, because it helps them understand. If I’m there modeling that I get to set limits around my own workload, maybe they do too.

Rebecca: How often do you check in about the rubrics that you designed collectively,

Fen: Formally, not very often. And I think informally a lot, depending on the class. I think the first time I did it, I didn’t check in enough. And there was some confusion about how it would work out at the end of the semester. And it caused more stress than it needed to. And so the next time I followed the same pattern for a quarter of the class, I had regular check-ins throughout the semester, and I would look at like, “How is this working for you? And are you going in the directions that you want to and are you working your way towards these goals and targets,” rather than showing up at the end and going “Okay, now you’re going to be assessed on these things.” So I’ve learned to check in more. But depending on the class, sometimes I check in just as I chat to the students, and sometimes I have scheduled time,

John: How have students responded to the process, have they found it very helpful? Has it helped build that climate of trust?

Fen: Well, especially during the pandemic, thinking about what was reasonable to expect of students was really useful. And I think, because I already had this kind of system in place, I sent out things to my classes saying like, “What can I expect from you in terms of WiFi? Can you make it to classes? If you can’t make it to classes, would you prefer a podcast style or blog style? Or would you want me to just put up a lot of stuff and ask questions? This is the range of my flexibility, what would you like within it.” And so I think that was really, really useful. And I think it helps people who have obstacles to being in the classroom stay in the classroom. And I think that’s the big thing. Every semester, I have to submit my own benchmarks for what I want the students to do and how well they’ve done. But I am allowed to set my own benchmarks. And recently I shifted from what percentage of students are getting an A to, I would rather that a broader perspective of students were getting Bs across a wide range of material. When I submitted that benchmark, I said, “I don’t want to disregard the work of all the people who fought super, super hard to stay in the classroom and get a B in the course, because for some students, that is a huge amount of work. And they put in hours and hours and hours of time and effort and growth to get Cs and Bs in a course and I want the assessment of my teaching to show that I’m recognizing that and I’m trying to make it possible for them to do that. And I am proud of them when they do. A thing I hear a lot from my students is “You genuinely care about us. We know that you care about us,” and I’m really happy hearing that.

Rebecca: A thread that we’ve heard a lot lately is that the methods and things that are meant to be inclusive usually also involve methods that show care.

Fen: And I want to point out the other thing that I remember that a student said to me recently is, “You made me work harder in that class than I’ve ever worked in any class in my life. And I did it.” And so when we’re talking about these inclusive teaching methods and caring teaching, it’s not that we lack rigor, and it’s not that we asked for less. In fact, after we end up asking for more, because you can’t follow a known system, you can’t go to essaydownloads.com, which is not a real website… but I know things like it exist… because it’s not going to work for the kinds of work I’m asking my students to do. And so they’re being asked to meet really, really high standards, but they’re ones that will be genuinely professionally helpful to them as individuals.

Rebecca: You mentioned ungrading earlier and talked about students’ individual growth. Do you have students use the rubric to essentially self-evaluate or are you using the rubric to evaluate?

Fen: That depends on the class. In a choreography class I have the students come to me with a portfolio and a pitch for the grade they think they ought to get based on rubric, and we talk about whether that’s realistic or not. Actually, I’ve never had anybody over pitch, I’ve always had people under pitch on what they think they deserve, which is kind of sad, really. And then in some classes I use the rubrics more as a more conventional grading tool.

John: I think we’ve also heard that quite a bit from people who’ve used ungrading, that they’re more likely to find people who underestimate how much they’ve learned during the course, which is something that surprised me when I first heard it. But now we’re starting to hear that a lot. You mentioned teaching during a pandemic, and I would imagine that that’s especially challenging in a class like dance or choreography. Could you tell us how you manage your classes during a period of pandemic teaching?

Fen: I kind of had a great time. Like, obviously, there’s a lot that was not a great time. But I really admire the work my students did during those times. The commitment it takes to show up on Zoom and dance in your dorm room and keep being an artist is so much harder than it is to be when you’re in a studio among other artists. And they held themselves to that standard. I did talk with students about the reality of how do you give your best attention, which for some people is sitting looking at the computer and for some people is walking around, pottering, while they listen to a lecture and thinking about like, “Okay, what does it take for you to give your best attention today? because I’d rather you gave me your best attention than sat here, not being able to listen.” And I think that was useful. I was very lucky that I got to go completely remote for a semester. And I taught theory classes initially. And then I came back to a mix of theory and practical classes, one of which was choreography. And just like, as I said before, with the students it’s not planning for the class you want to have, it’s planning for the class you’ve got, and I had to do a hybrid class. And so rather than go “Okay, how do I make Zoom get as close as possible to an in-person class,” I said, “Okay, the first five weeks are going to be completely over Zoom, and at the end of it, we’re going to make a film about closeups. And we’re going to think of the dimensions of the Zoom screen and what it takes to be an artist within the tiny box. And so using the restrictions of the pandemic to shape how his class was going to be structured. And in history, again… I’m not sure if either of you have given lectures… but sitting on Zoom and watching a row of empty black boxes with a couple of faces while you try and give a lecture is a special kind of hell. [LAUGHTER] And I talked to my students, and they said, “We really do need lecture content.” I said, “Okay, so one class a week, I will just give you content over a lecture. And the other class of the week, you’re going into breakout rooms, and you’re going to do solo space self-directed learning. I’ll have questions for you.” I had a GTA, who was also in the rooms and they just talked their way through the history and the evidence and the questions and it was wonderful. And when I came back live, it completely reshaped my pedagogy. Because knowing that people were willing to get really deep into conversation further then I could take them to a kind of a guided discussion. And so not everybody wants to learn that way. Some people really do not want to sit and get into a really active lively discussion. And so finding a balance as I’m in the classroom, and there’s more opportunities. I call it “choose your own adventure,” but letting people have flexibility in how they’re learning. There’s lots of different ways to get through the course and that was shaped by Zoom and the necessities of how we teach dance during a pandemic.

Rebecca: So we talked at the top of the conversation about how few transgender and non-binary faculty members there are. And representation, as we know, is very important for our students and for our colleagues and to have a nice, wonderful learning environment. Could you talk about some of the challenges that you faced, as a faculty member who identifies as transgender and non-binary?

Fen: We are in a moment in America, and the world, where we don’t have a cultural consensus that transphobia is wrong, we don’t have a cultural consensus that homophobia is wrong, which means that putting myself out in the classroom is in itself a political statement. And that’s not one that every school wants to get behind. And it’s not one that every student feels necessarily confident about when they encounter me. We’ve got people coming in as undergrads, often I’m the first non-binary person they’ve met. And here I am grading them, and are they going to get into trouble if they get it wrong? And oh, my goodness, it’s a non-binary person at last. Let me ask them all my gender questions. Let me come out to you. There’s a spectrum of responses. But always, there’s a certain necessary caution around what I am allowed to say and who I am allowed to be. So that if somebody does say, “You’re grooming our children, you are putting our students in danger, you are sexualizing people and you are teaching children things that are against their religion.” And there are all things that could come up, how am I going to respond? And what is the record of my pedagogy and my actions going to say in response to those accusations? and that is a lot of weight to carry on your shoulders on a day-to-day basis. To know that the record of your actions might have to answer those questions. And so that’s something I think about a lot. And something I try and be very careful around. I have become more and more known for speaking about these interviews. I have been interviewed by Dance Teacher magazine, a couple of times, I keep my own blog about it. I’m someone that people go to when they want someone to talk about dance and gender now, which again means having a practice and how I shape my words and my presence. But on a practical level, I live in a small city, and even things like going out in the evening… is a student going to be in a restaurant? Or is a student going to be waiting on me and my partner? If someone takes a photo of me out in public with a glass of alcohol in my hand, is that going to come back to haunt me? And so it’s not just my professional life that gets shaped by these issues. But it’s every aspect of my life, where I have to be conscious of, again, what my actions may be held up as evidence for.

Rebecca: That’s a lot of emotional and cognitive energy that goes into all of that, and I imagine a great deal of planning, as you’re thinking about your courses.

Fen: Yes, there’s a lot of thinking, and I want to expose my students to a lot of very diverse material. And also, how do I give them the language of opting out? I don’t want to force anyone to watch things. And I’m actually a big believer in giving everybody the right of refusal in the classroom, most of the time, I work a lot with touch, which means you have to work really hard about consent. I definitely grew up in an era where your body was just picked up and moved around. And so thinking about my students’ right to say no to things, which often results in people feeling more comfortable saying yes to things. And I think in the same way that I sit down with my students and I say my pronouns are they and them, if you have a strong conviction that you can’t use that, you can use something else, I do prefer not to be called Mam, which I think is partly gender and partly British. But given that I’m out in the world, when I’m talking to my peers, and there’s not that level of force and power imbalance, I use they/them pronouns, and that’s what I expect people to use for me. But when it is someone over whom I have a certain amount of power, I think I have to give that little bit of space for them to go, “Okay, I need to think about my beliefs and my feelings and my desires and the power in the situation and know that I’m not going to mess up my entire academic career if I don’t get this right first time.”

Rebecca: Sounds like a lot of grace is extended. [LAUGHTER[

Fen: A lots of people weren’t sure about me coming down to Alabama. I chose to take the job here and I think it’s really important I say I had choices and I chose Alabama, in part because of how hungry the students were to learn, they really threw themselves enthusiastically at new challenging things. And I went, that’s where I want to be.

John: I was going to ask about that. While this could be challenging anywhere, I would think being in the south in general would make it much more challenging, especially given the level of religiosity of many of the students there.

Fen: Well, I think sometimes there’s a stereotype that the South is just an extra level of awfulness than anywhere else. And there’s a certain baseline of awful that you’re going to find absolutely anywhere where you’re a transgender professor. One of the places that I interviewed for a tenure-track position, they kind of grilled me for a long time trying not to say gender, but would I be willing to teach students with different beliefs? How would I manage students in the classroom who might have different ideas than me about how history worked? Which are valid questions, but really not the right question to ask when what you’re trying to say is, “How is your gender going to impact the classroom?” …which they can’t legally asked. And I walked into the interview at Alabama, and the head of dance said: “Just to check before we start the interview, you take they/them pronouns?” I’m like, “Yep.” And he went “Great.” And I was like, “Okay.” So in some ways, academia is a little blue bubble. But there are lots of things about being where I am in a situation that I am that I very much love and I also think that if people maintain this idea that the South is bad and awful, it’s often used as an excuse to stop people looking at their own behavior… we’re much better than the South, they need to change, they need to do things differently. People who are let’s get out of the south, let’s all move up north, whereas the activism down here is very powerful, like really incredible the work that people are doing to try and make the south a more livable place for everybody in it. And that should be respected and recognized, and it doesn’t do people justice to wrap the entire South up in this label of awful. That answer got a little tangled, but I think the summary of it is that there’s a lot of work to be done everywhere, and I’m happy to be doing the kind of work I want to do here.

Rebecca: That’s a very nice, succinct way of summarizing the tangle. [LAUGHTER] But it also always gets tangled, because there’s so many things that pull and push in different directions, and probably really worth acknowledging how much time you probably spend mentoring students who come to you based on your identity, and self-disclose because they’re looking for an advocate and they’re looking for a role model. And that labor is often incredibly invisible.

Fen: Yes. And I think, interestingly, I’m in a department where there’s a number of faculty members who collect… I call them goslings sometimes, [LAUGHTER] but students who, by virtue of identity or life situation, need extra love and support. And I think that every student at some point in their undergrad career needs a little extra love and support. And we are a large department. It’s hard to build those relationships with all the students, but I try not to just be there on the virtue of identity, like I do try and make time for anyone who asks for the time, often because I don’t get to know all the students very well, especially those with LGBTQ identities, you often can’t tell by looking. And so it helps me check my own judgment and make sure that I’m not unintentionally creating favoritism or groups. If somebody needs the help and the time, I want to be able to give it to them to the extent that I can. And I have had to learn how to say “I have X amount of time and then I have to have you leave my office.”

Rebecca: Boundaries, so helpful, so healthy.

Fen: Because if your professor is a person that your professor gets to be a person, just like you.

Rebecca: I feel like that’s such a powerful thing to end on. [LAUGHTER]

John: It is, yes. And humanizing the professor creates a much more positive environment where they do feel more connected to you.

Rebecca: Picture a professor, they are a person. [LAUGHTER]

Fen: Yes.

John: Okay. Well, we always end with the question: “What’s next?”

Fen: Well, I’m on sabbatical right now.

Rebecca: Woo hoo.

Fen: I have just gotten back from three weeks at the Hambidghe Arts Residency Center, which is just absolutely incredible… off the grid in the wilderness of the Georgia and North Carolina mountains. Fresh air. I got back yesterday.

Rebecca: Wow.

Fen: I leave on the 13th of October to go to Philly. I’m helping organize a partner dance event. And I am meandering up the East Coast, different cities ending in Ann Arbor where I am teaching a series of master classes and I’m presenting at a conference, and then I will come home and I’ll see what the next adventure is. But what’s next really is five cities in just under a month.

John: Sounds like a busy but productive schedule.

Fen: I’m really looking forward to it.

Rebecca: I hope you have wonderful travels.

Fen: Thank you


John: If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast service. To continue the conversation, join us on our Tea for Teaching Facebook page.

Rebecca: You can find show notes, transcripts and other materials on teaforteaching.com. Music by Michael Gary Brewer.