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  • Thinking in Public: Speaking Realities of Academic Labour
  • Elissa Gurman (bio) and Erin Wunker (bio)

Teaching is a public act. There we are, at the front of a room, facilitating learning. As teachers, we stand before a group of students and try to create the conditions for knowledge transfer, knowledge production, and (dare we say it?) curiosity and inquiry. And we’re doing this, often, within a public institution. Those of us who teach—from graduate students, to contract academic faculty, to early career faculty, to full professors—are acting in public on a near-daily basis. We write, speak, publish, and present in public places from the classroom to the Internet. Yet, we do not tend to bring these personal and shared experiences into public conversations with one another. Unless you are a faculty member who has both access to and interest in, say, the 3m Teaching symposiums, what we do is, strangely, isolated from our discussions with one another as colleagues. This is especially true when we start to think about our stratified positionalities in the academy. Who we are and how we are read at the front of the classroom affects our experiences as teachers. For example, we have increasing evidence to shore up what we know: that women, women of colour, people of colour, queer people, and differently abled people receive significantly lower teaching evaluations than people who pass as white straight men of a certain age. Further, race, gender, [End Page 1] age, sexuality, and class intersect in complicated ways with job titles. Job security and job designation affect not just how we are read and received as teachers in classrooms; they affect how we interact with one another. How and what we say to each other about our experiences as pedagogues often gets relegated to hallway conversations. These informal confidences are vital, to be sure, but we also wager that we as teachers can benefit from more open conversations about the material and affective realities of our work.

Teaching in a postsecondary context—as contract academic faculty, as graduate students, as early career faculty, and as tenured faculty—means acting in public spaces on a near-daily basis. Indeed, publicness—of research, of pedagogy, of praxis—has been embedded in the language of federal, provincial, and individual granting institutions. But when do academic workers have the opportunity to bring their personal and shared experiences of this kind of labour into a public conversation with other academic workers? And what are the contexts in which personal experience is safe to talk about in public and professional spaces? How and when are we able to articulate the gendered and racialized labour that is taken up (or doled out) disproportionately? While we have languages for discussing our research in public forums, we have fewer resources and less practice talking about the work we do in our teaching and service work. In this Readers’ Forum, itself a venue for public discourse, experimentation, and witnessing, our contributors consider the unspoken and often unspeakable aspects of our work.

This Reader’s Forum comes from two panels run by the Committee for Professional Concerns that took place at the 2016 Congress in Calgary. Each of the panels, “(Not) Speaking the Realities of Academic Labour” and “The Spectrum of the Professoriate and the Rise of the Teaching Stream,” sought to address some of the ways in which the affective and material conditions of teaching are profoundly shaped by the material conditions of our positions within the hierarchies of academic life and teaching. This Reader’s Forum emerges from these panels. It is telling, perhaps, that there are more papers here that address the material conditions of labour—the rise of teaching streams, the ways in which productive cross-talk can and should happen amongst us. We suspect that a parallel discussion of the affective conditions of teaching would be both illuminating and affirming. Long-running blogs such as Hook & Eye: Fast Feminism, Slow Academe suggest that there is both a desire and a community for such discussions. The papers in this Forum, however, take up the important task of developing and critiquing the discourse surrounding the labour of teaching in...


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