being undone · professors

The Value of Becoming Undone

I cannot tell you what I wore on the first day on my undergrad, but I can guarantee that it was brand, spankin’ new.
I promise that I had a backpack that was sans a sales tag less than 24 hours and I had 5 different binders with crisp dividers and an arsenal of unused writing pens and tightly capped high lighters.
I sat nervously in seminars over the first year, raising my hand at needless intervals (participation marks!) and reiterating information from the text that I had poured over the night before. In short, I was the cliché of the eager, ungifted first year student.

As I continued through my under grad experience, I cast aside the habit of back to school shopping and began ferreting used pens from the junk drawer before heading to my classes. I focused on the relationships and the connection between what was happening in the text and the world around me. I didn’t do all my reading, but I thought a lot more about what I did read with fresh, critical thinking. I relaxed. I became more open to letting my studies flow into every aspect of my life, rather than compartmentalizing it into a structured, efficient environment.

In short, I became undone.

I was recently talking to a friend who was lamenting a new professor in her faculty. She is nice, professionally dressed, crisp and efficient. She has structured lectures that are everything a lecture should be, but she’s missing a vital ingredient – being undone. She is openly nervous when conversation veers off of the lesson plan and is uncomfortable with unplanned questions or comments arise.
Again, nothing wrong per say, but the absolute best professors I have ever had were the ones that had a personality that shone though their lectures. Who swore when it was necessary. Who openly wept when they lectured on the inequality of women, both past and present. Who made jokes about their hips, pierced their eyebrows, sat on their desks to lecture, talked about their families and listened to their class.

Those were the professors that were undone. Who were willing to let their personality, interests and professionalism collide and to help shape their students beyond the classroom. Many of the readers on this site are professors just like this and I send a giant cheer your way.

Thank you, for being undone.

What steps did you take as a professor or student to relax and let your personality and your work meld into one? Did it come naturally for you?

One thought on “The Value of Becoming Undone

  1. Thank you for saying this. While I don't want to suggest I think that I rank as anyone's “absolutely best professor,”! I've often felt that the degree to which I let my personality and passion appear while teaching has hurt me. It may feel truer to me, and it may create a particularly moving classroom experience … but it may also allow people to judge me as too – well, for lack of a better word, girly, emotional, reactive — and thus, critically, too unprofessional. Whereas the successful academic (male or female) would be (is!) cool, focused, and able to share something, but not all, of themselves. (And then be able to go write another book. Sigh.)

    That's one reason I like to think of what we do as the “humanities” (at least, what some historians say we do, but that's another argument …)


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