247. Picture a Professor

What does a professor look like? In popular culture the professor is white and male—a sage on the stage. In this episode Jessamyn Neuhaus joins us to discuss the role context, employment status, and embodied identity play in our teaching realities and experiences.

Show Notes

  • Neuhaus, J. (2019). Geeky Pedagogy: A Guide for Intellectuals, Introverts, and Nerds Who Want to Be Effective Teachers. West Virginia University Press.
  • Neuhaus, Jessamyn (forthcoming, 2022). Picture a Professor: Interrupting Biases about Faculty and Increasing Student Learning. West Virginia University Press.
  • Harlow, R. (2003). ” Race doesn’t matter, but…”: The effect of race on professors’ experiences and emotion management in the undergraduate college classroom. Social psychology quarterly, 348-363.
  • Garcia, Nichole M. (2018). “You Don’t Look Like a Professor.” Diverse Education. March 29.
  • Jessamyn Neuhaus twitter: https://twitter.com/GeekyPedagogy
  • Pittman, C., & Tobin, T. J. (2022). “Academe Has a Lot to Learn About How Inclusive Teaching Affects Instructors.The Chronicle of Higher Education. February 7.
  • Mejia, Donna (2021).  Explaining Fumble Forward. YouTube video/ April 19
  • Pictureaprofessor.com
  • Hogan, Kelly A. and Viji Sathy (2022). Inclusive Teaching: Strategies for Promoting Equity in the College Classroom. West Virginia University Press.

Transcript

Rebecca: What does a professor look like? In popular culture the professor is white and male—a sage on the stage. In this episode we discuss the role context, employment status, and embodied identity play in our teaching realities and experiences.

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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&hellip

John: &hellipand Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer&hellip

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

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John: Our guest today is Jessamyn Neuhaus. Jessamyn is the director of the SUNY Plattsburgh Center for Teaching Excellence and a Professor in the History Department at SUNY Plattsburgh. She specializes in the study of pop culture, gender studies, and teaching and learning. Jasmine is also a recipient of the State University of New York’s Chancellor’s Award for Teaching Excellence, and the editor of Teaching History: a Journal of Methods. She’s the author of Geeky Pedagogy: a Guide for Intellectuals, Introverts, and Nerds Who Want to be Effective Teachers. And Jessamyn is the editor of Picture a Professor: Interrupting Biases about Faculty and Increasing Student Learning, which will be released by West Virginia University Press this fall. Welcome back, Jessamyn.

Jessamyn: Thank you. I’m so happy to be here.

Rebecca: Today’s teas are&hellip Jessamyn, are you drinking tea?

Jessamyn: I’m drinking coffee. I need to mainline that caffeine as much as possible. And I’m drinking Green Mountain Coffee Island Coconut,

John: &hellipand I am drinking English breakfast tea this morning.

Rebecca: Ah, we match today, John. [LAUGHTER] But mine’s decaf.

John: Since we’re recording five podcasts today, I have six cups of tea in various thermoses here with me, because I’m not going to be leaving this room for quite a while. We’ve invited you here today to discuss Picture a Professor. Could you tell us a little bit about the origin of this project?

Jessamyn: Sure, I’d be glad to. I think it really started when I was doing the research for Geeky Pedagogy. And the first chapter in Geeky Pedagogy is about awareness. And it has four kinds of realities that all instructors need to be aware of and cultivate awareness of: identity matters, learning is hard, who our students are, and who we are. And when I was researching that chapter, I read a 2003 article by Roxana Harlow, a psychologist, it’s a 2003 article in Social Psychology Quarterly. And she used the phrase “disparate teaching realities.” And that really stuck with me because of the way it foregrounded: this is a reality&hellip that people’s teaching context shapes their labor as an educator, and that they are not equal, that they are disparate, they’re not the same, that we do not have the same kind of teaching workload, depending on all kinds of circumstances in our individual contexts. Employment status really matters. Embodied identity really matters. Department culture, student population and discipline, all those things really matter. I think too, one of the origins of this project was my background in popular culture, and studying popular culture, and the way that the primary representation of college professors in popular culture is very, very limited. And also, not coincidentally, kind of opposite of myself, the professor we see most of the time in movies and television is the white guy. And he is usually, if he’s being depicted as a good educator, he’s super dynamic and performative. And students are sitting entranced as he lectures and they magically learn, just because he’s such a wonderful classroom performer. So as an introvert, and someone who’s never going to be a kind of super dynamic, high energy, always entertaining performer, that stereotype was lodged in my head, and writing Geeky Pedagogy was a way that I was trying to address and dismantle that super professor stereotype. So as my scholarship of teaching and learning continued, I increasingly became aware of all the intersecting aspects of our identity that might play a role in our teaching work.

Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about the title: Picture a Professor?

Jessamyn: Sure, an early version of this project, a working title or phrase that kept coming up was “you don’t look like a professor.” Hearing that phrase is a common experience, as explained very well in an article in Diverse Education by Nicole Margarita Garcia. She wrote an article by that same name, “You Don’t Look Like a Professor” and she points out, very compellingly, that no matter what the intention of that statement, the result is the negation of one’s expertise and authority. It’s an undermining of the knowledge and abilities that someone has in their role as an educator. Again, it’s not necessarily the intention of the random stranger or the student or the colleague who says, “You don’t look like a professor.” That might not be their intention, but that is the function. You don’t look like a professor, so someone else does. But as the collection started to come together, and I was working with the authors, and I was talking to the contributors about a title, it started to take, I guess, what I would think of as a more positive direction. So at first, the whole collection acknowledges that reality, that those stereotypes are there, and that that disempowering and disrespectful response happens. But then what? What are you going to do with that? How are we going to respond to that? And every contributor to this volume, while acknowledging that reality, also believes in the ability of students and our world to rethink and remake that stereotype&hellip to challenge it and to re-imagine it&hellip remake the role of the professor, even more than just diversifying the image that might be on our TV screens or movie screens. These authors are arguing for really reimagining our roles and redistributing power. They believe in the transformative power of education. So, Picture a Professor really is the nod to the strategies that are being explored in this volume, and that we can, collectively in higher education and as a culture and society, we can picture a professor as anybody, in any body, moving past the gendered and racialized and other kinds of embodied aspects of that stereotype to reimagine what’s possible.

John: You collected a very interesting and diverse group of authors in this collection. How did you find all these authors? How did you select them?

Jessamyn: I put out a call for papers on Twitter. And that really was probably the most important way. I also utilized some of my own networking and connections to reach out to potential contributors. But a big percentage of the people in this selection found me and found the call for papers through my Twitter account. And I think we may have talked before about this, I was really late to social media. Twitter was my first foray in 2019. Because I had just written Geeky Pedagogy and so wanted people to read it, that I was willing to do the unthinkable, [LAUGHTER] which was go on social media to try to get people connected with that book. But it turned out, to my surprise, that it’s been a really great way to connect with a lot of different people in academia and higher education in a way that hasn’t been possible for me working at a small, rural, very isolated, really small state university, and also just being kind of naturally adverse to conferencing and networking anyway. Twitter’s really been my most important personal pedagogical learning network since 2019, and of course, the pandemic just upped that a thousandfold. When I was even more isolated here in Plattsburgh, New York, it was a way to connect with all kinds of people that I wouldn’t just happen to meet otherwise. And that helped me get a lot of interest in the book. I had way more submissions than I had room for. And that was not easy. I’ve been on the receiving end of that email saying, “I’m sorry, this isn’t going to be&hellip” &hellipmany, many times. So I knew exactly how discouraging that could be. So it was a good problem to have, but that was a process, letting people know that there wasn’t gonna be room in the volume for their piece. So I had the luxury of really choosing a highly diverse group of authors and I mean, diverse, not just in issues of identity, but in academic disciplines, in stages of their career. This volume has authors in all stages of their careers, and geographically, so I guess I’m really proud of that.

Rebecca: I love that. In some ways, this book may function as a really key piece of activism so that when they pick it up, and it says picture this is a professor&hellip Like, we have a whole new version. You kind of describe that a bit when you’re talking about the title. But I love that when you open the volume, it’s everything counter to this stereotype. Can you talk a little bit about what you’re hoping that this project will achieve?

Jessamyn: Especially since the pandemic, there has been increasing awareness and attention paid to what many people are terming: the need to humanize higher education&hellip which always begs the question: ”what were we doing before that?” [LAUGHTER] But that recognition of students’ diverse experiences and the really pressing vital need for inclusive teaching practices, recognizing students as individuals in unique life circumstances, framing diversity as an educational asset and increasing our pedagogical practices that maximize opportunities for everybody to succeed, and which I 100% agree with. But also, in addition, as human beings, because students are people and human beings just like us. As human beings, students bring expectations, assumptions, and stereotypes about college teaching and academic expertise into the classroom. If we’re going to talk about: “We need to humanize higher education,” that also includes recognizing and dealing with the human, gendered, racialized, and more, stereotypes about what college teaching and learning looks like. So for example, a recent Chronicle of Higher Education, co-authored with one of the contributors to Picture a Professor, Dr. Chavella Pitman and Dr. Thomas Tobin&hellip they recently published an article that got a lot of buzz&hellip very rightly so&hellip in the Chronicle of Higher Education about, “Hey, if you are going to recommend inclusive teaching practices, keep in mind that embodied identity matters and teaching context matters, and how any one person might implement a teaching strategy really can be influenced by their employment status, their gender presentation, their ethnic, racial identity, their speaking voice, their discipline, their department culture.” That was a gap that I saw in the scholarship of teaching and learning and teaching advice, generally&hellip otherwise, very, very excellent advice and evidence based practices that failed to adequately acknowledge and recognize that our individual teaching context also matters. That was part of Geeky Pedagogy, too, that being an introvert, being not necessarily socially skilled, plays a role in how I’m going to do some of the things that, yes, the evidence shows this is something an effective instructor and educator does. So what does that mean for me, though? How can I make it work for me in my teaching content? So my hope for the Picture a Professor project&hellip what I hope it can do&hellip first, is empower and inspire college educators who recognize their own experiences in navigating student preconceptions and biases, and stereotypes about expertise and authority. But I also hope, and it’s certainly intended to help all readers recognize those systemic inequities in college teaching and how that shapes what can happen in individual classrooms and at the same time, gather strategies for their own classrooms as well, things that you can do right now. And this was something James Lang recommended the first time around in Geeky Pedagogy, and I resisted. But this time, I was like, “Yes, that’s a good idea.” [LAUGHTER] He recommended that each chapter have a bullet point list of teaching takeaways and Picture a Professor does that. And those teaching takeaways are insights and actionable strategies that will help anyone teach more effectively with the caveat that of course your individual context matters, and you will have to adapt and shift and change and some things may work better than others. That would go against the whole premise of the book to say everything works for everyone all the time. There’s nothing like that with college teaching. There’s no magic elixir you can swallow and then magically, this will work for everyone, every student all the time. That’s not how teaching and learning works. But those teaching takeaways really are thought provoking and insightful and should inspire anyone reading to think about how it might be adapted and used in their own classroom.

John: English breakfast tea though, is is a very nice magic elixir, but it may not solve all those problems.

Jessamyn: Caffeine is the magic elixir, yes.

John: &hellipwhich has long been used in higher ed.

Jessamyn: Yes.

John: Your book is divided into four parts: the first day, making connections, anti-racist pedagogies, and teaching with our whole selves. Could you tell us a bit about some of the topics that are addressed in each section?

Jessamyn: Yes, absolutely. Each section offers specific actionable strategies related to that title of the section. So the first section about the first day is all about the vital central importance of the first class meeting. And that’s a great way to start the collection because it takes this truth from the scholarship of teaching and learning, which is that the first day, really the first five minutes, of an in-person class and the first time a student logs into an online class. In some ways, those are the most important five minutes of the entire term. Because first impressions matter so, so much, and it’s so, so vital for students to be engaged right away. In addition, though, the first day takes on even increased importance when an instructor is navigating student expectations and presumptions and assumptions and stereotypes about “what a professor looks like,” or how a college class works. So the strategies that are explored in this section, they all take that foundational good teaching, effective teaching practice, plan extremely carefully for your first day, your first few minutes. And then, in addition to having a fantastic first day, here are ways to interrupt those biases to acknowledge and work with and help students overcome those stereotypes using things that we know work. So active learning, very careful preparation, going to your classroom and scoping it out if it’s in person before the first day so you’re very familiar with the physical space. Engaging students immediately with the content, which has this two-pronged effect. So one, you get students engaged right away&hellip it demonstrates that you care about their learning, you love the content, and you’re going to get them engaged, which is of course helpful for their learning. Also, it demonstrates your expertise, your knowledge, and it gets students right away from the first day knowing I know what I am talking about, and I love this subject, and I’m going to get you to engage with it as well. So that’s some strategies from the first day. Part two, making connections, similarly takes concepts that the scholarship of teaching and learning has shown are vital to student learning: building trust and building rapport with students and the authors take those strategies, explore for how to do them while also contending with student assumptions and expectations. So they look at things like encouraging student metacognition, collaborative rubrics, co-creating a grading rubric with students, and experiential learning&hellip all evidence-based effective teaching practices, and the authors build on those to show, and also these are ways to help students picture you as the professor. Part three digs into some specific anti-racist teaching strategies as ways we can increase student learning and at the same time, challenge stereotypes or de-center a certain limited depiction of professors from the student and instructor standpoint. So like I was saying about the purpose of the selection, humanizing higher education, anti-racist teaching strategies are important for creating inclusive classrooms for our students. They are also important for helping to chip away at the disparate teaching realities that instructors face as well. So that section it was important to me to include that for those reasons. Part four, teaching with our whole selves, gives specific teaching strategies for disrupting bias that students may bring into the classroom, while paying close attention to helping instructors be successful professionally in the classroom helping students learn. So there’s some reflective aspects to those essays, instructors reflecting on the ways they’ve been able to use classroom practices like picking a bias index, for example, in the discipline or creating classroom communities where fumbling forward&hellip that’s Donna Meija’s phrase&hellip fumbling forward is normalized as we struggled to learn, or like Dr. Pitman’s final chapter on the review process and the ways that women faculty of color can proactively get a wide range of feedback about their teaching, and include documentation and evidence from the scholarship about the different biases that women faculty of color face&hellip how to include that in your review process, working towards professional success.

Rebecca: So everyone wants to know, when exactly can we get this book?

Jessamyn: The release date that West Virginia University Press is saying is November of 2022. I’m hopeful it might be out a little bit sooner. And you can also see a lot more information about each author and a detailed table of contents at our book website, pictureaprofessor&hellip all one word&hellip pictureaprofessor.com.

John: And we will be interviewing a few of the authors in there. So there’ll be a little bit of a teaser for some of that information coming up over the next several months.

Rebecca: I know I’m really excited to read it when it comes out.

John: I’ve had it on preorder since I saw you tweet about it.

Jessamyn: And I couldn’t be happier that it’s coming out close to Viji Sathy’s and Kelly Hogan’s book: Inclusive Teaching. That book is going to be a real game changer on inclusive teaching practices to build inclusivity in the classroom. So I think the West Virginia University Press series is really addressing significant major issues and gaps in the scholarship right now.

John: It’s a wonderful series. And I think we’ve interviewed most of the authors now, actually, and we’re looking forward to seeing more coming through. And we did have a chance to meet Viji Sathy and Kelly Hogan just a couple of weeks ago here at the SUNY CIT conference. And it was really nice to see them in person after reading their articles and interviewing them on the podcast a few times.

Rebecca: So we always wrap up by asking what’s next, Jessamyn?

Jessamyn: Well, in the immediate future, there is a bonus chapter to Picture a Professor that I promised in the introduction that I wrote. I don’t actually have a chapter in the book, besides the introduction, and that was because I got so many outstanding contributions and proposals that I took out my chapter to leave more room for other people to be published. So I promised in the introduction to include my bonus chapter, which is going to be on student course evaluations and how that intersects with these stereotypes about being a professor. It’s an issue that a number of the authors mention and discuss, but not as the sole focus. So that’s the bonus chapter that will need to be done by November so I need to get going on that. [LAUGHTER]

John: So will there be a Picture More Professors coming out?

Jessamyn: I certainly hope so.

John: Well, thank you. It’s always great talking to you.

Jessamyn: Thank you for having me. I love Tea for Teaching. Everybody should listen to it all the time.

Rebecca: And we can’t wait to read the book.

Jessamyn: Thank you

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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.

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