heavy-handed metaphors · teaching

Public Transit and Teaching

One of the reasons why we decided to move across country was the desire to lead a more pedestrian–literally–life. Edmonton, outside of a few central neighbourhoods, and those on the North-South LRT line, makes its inhabitants completely car-dependent. I’m happy to say that our move has enabled us to escape the car culture and embrace public transit. My commute on most days now features an hour on the train, a bus connection, and some waiting around. That is valuable teaching prep time for me, and I can read, grade, and do lesson prep on the move. This linking between teaching and public transit has also led me to think of the ways in which the two are alike.

Both teaching and public transit make you vulnerable in overlapping ways. They throw you in the midst of a group of people; you become visible and thus open to judgement by a crowd of people. By looking at them, in turn, you can more or less gauge the reaction you make by your presence. Social values and ideologies are rendered legible in these reactions. I am cis-gendered female, so my appearance is fair-game for open scrutiny: people and students alike move their gaze freely and unconcernedly across my body from head to toe, trailing behind easily discerned evaluations like “her footwear doesn’t work with that outfit” or “would it have hurt to put on some mascara?” Yes, I’m sorry to say I hardly ever wear makeup, unlike my more stylish and certainly better groomed friends here at Hook and Eye.

On the flip side, however, both public transit and teaching bring you in the same space with a group of people on the same journey, sharing similar goals. One more literally so than the other. So there is something to counteract the initial vulnerability, and turn it into an empowering common experience: an opportunity to build some sort of a community. On the bus, it’s a community based on physical proximity. In teaching, when it works, that nearness morphs into a common teaching and learning experience, a sort of a polyphony that, ideally, moves from cacophony to harmony.