CN: Anxiety/panic attacks
I’m not normally a nervous public speaker but I have found preparing for my 8 minute YLTA talk more nerve-wracking than anything I’ve done so far in terms of conferences and teaching. The task was to speak for 8 minutes, with 2 additional minutes for Q&A on any aspect of pedagogical practice which relates to a choice of 4 broad themes.
It was obvious to me that I would do my talk on feminist teaching and reflect on how I draw on feminist pedagogical methodology to ‘engage students in learning.’ Simple. As I thought more about how I could do this talk, I decided that I wanted to speak more broadly on politics in the academy/classroom as I would be addressing a room of non-gender studies scholars and doing justice to a talk on feminist pedagogy would require more background knowledge than I would have time to share. I wrote the following abstract, submitted it and thought nothing more of it for several weeks, though my YLTA supervisor did email back to say that it sounded ‘interesting’ but perhaps he didn’t agree with my stance. If I’m honest I dismissed his comments thinking ‘he’s a scientist’ he likes objectivity, he doesn’t get it but that’s what my paper will address.
I want to teach in order to change the world. Ok, so that’s a big statement to make, but for me, teaching is an extension of my political activism and as such is, and must be, deeply rooted in the progressive paradigm that defines much of who I am as a person, a researcher and now, teacher.
This paper will examine the ways in which we can, and do, bring our politics into the classroom, featuring case studies on teaching feminism and feminist teaching. It will ask how, why and if we should, pedagogically speaking, practice what we preach and look at the challenges and rewards that such an approach might offer. I will argue that teaching is a politically preformative endeavour whether we like it or not, and thus, we as fledgling teachers have a moral and pedagogical imperative to acknowledge and even embrace this in our practice.
A couple of weeks before the symposium the list of abstracts was sent around and the panic began. Mine stuck out like a sore thumb. Not an ‘ooh that sounds interesting’ sore thumb, or even a ‘kinda left-field’ sore thumb, but a a downright wacky-missed-the-brief-what-was-I-thinking sore thumb! I have a tendency to write everything as if it were a manifesto, papers, abstracts, blog posts, shopping lists… I consider myself acting with restraint if the words ‘workers’ and ‘chains’ are not used!
A Shopping List by Ellie
We must seize on this opportunity as oppressed workers to utilise our meagre wages to purchase bread and milk from our masters who keep us shackled in systematic exploitation and wage slavery. We must unite in the dairy isle and buy cheese in defiance of their fascist regimes, showing solidarity with our siblings who work in the markets of super….
I fretted for days, reading and re-reading my abstract wondering if there was any way to ‘tone it down’ a bit. There wasn’t. So I began pulling together a presentation which despite my misgivings, I was actually quite pleased with. I decided that sticking to my guns and my principles and going ‘bold’ might well alienate some of my peers, but so be it. The misgivings however lingered and I thought it might be worth me doing a dry run before presenting the paper which is not something I usually do, preferring not to appear too stiff/scripted. I roped my mum and dad into being ‘willing’ viewers and went over the presentation as I waited for my mother to figure our how to log into Skype (again!). The first reading was 21.5 minutes long; so a bit over then!
Frantically I began cutting, pasting, editing and hacking the presentation down and did a read through for my mum and dad. It was shorter; but that’s really the only good thing I could say about it. I felt as though I had cut so much, it no longer made sense and the feedback from my dad made it clear that what I was trying to say, I wasn’t. I spent the night reading, timing and editing until I had something vaguely resembling a coherent presentation, but every time I tried to read it, I stumbled on my words and couldn’t, for the life of me articulate myself. I was doomed. Even on a good day this presentation was going to be a lead balloon- a best case scenario if I could actually say what I meant to. I did not sleep well that night.
I delayed going to bed, faffing around mindlessly on the internet trying to distract myself from the panic and prolong the time before I would have to give my talk. I tossed and turned, broke out in a sweat and woke early the next morning with a familiar sense of doom and foreboding. ‘Hello panic attack, you’re still here then?’ And my voice had gone. I tried pushing through it, I really did. This teaching award is so important to me and I am working really hard on my practice I didn’t want my anxiety to blow it for me as it has blown so many other things, but after a few hours I was still in bed, only able to utter a croak, sweating and shivering, crying and knowing that it wasn’t going to happen. I emailed the conveners and explained the situation and awaited the email confirming that I’d been kicked off the programme.
But it never came. The lecturers running the programme emailed back almost straight away offering sympathy and re-assurance that we would find a way for me to do this. They suggested I make a video recording of myself and send that in instead- an offer which I appreciated but didn’t appeal. The thought of being on video somehow made me more nervous and I knew that the anxious perfectionist in me would be unlikely to find a ‘take’ I was happy with, so I resolved to do it the following week at another symposium for the course. I relaxed a little knowing that I’d have a week to get to grips with my paper before trying again and decided that the best thing to do would be to ignore it for a few days and come back to it with a fresh eye.
Then I got the flu.
At least that’s what I think happened. The sweating and voice loss I had put down to stress, grew and became sweating, fever, headache, chills, nausea, shivering and general aching from head to toe. I spent the entire weekend in bed drifting in and out of feverish sleep and feeling generally sorry for myself. What was I going to do now? Thankfully by Monday, and with the aid of over the counter analgesics, the worst of it had passed and by Tuesday morning the adrenaline was keeping the lingering sickness at bay. I printed off my un-altered or even revisited paper, read through it and made a few notes, thinking ‘Ah, it’s not as bad as I’d remembered’. Off to uni I went, nervous but not panicking. I was resolved that what I had to say was important, I believe in it deeply so decided to stand by it and address the criticisms when they come. Go bold, or go home.
The facilitators had kindly agreed to let me go on second so I wouldn’t have to wait around all day getting more and more distressed and also wouldn’t have the added pressure of being first. As I helped myself to complimentary coffee and took my seat I felt OK. A familiar, friendly face from CWS helped me relax a bit, and we shared a laugh about how both of us have a fairly unorthodox approach. I made a joke about how we shouldn’t give papers at all, just offer an interpretive dance and the symposium began. The first paper was given, interesting and professional and I began organising my notes as the speaker answered questions. Unfortunately for me, one if his answers involved him commenting that his pet peeve in teaching was teachers who are too political in the classroom. ‘Ha!’ I thought, and embarrassingly and rudely exclaimed out loud – not out of disagreement but panic as I knew I was up next, discussing the important role of politics in the classroom. Face. Palm. Hole of doom swallow me now!
So I got up and gave my presentation. Its all a bit of a blur now. I went over the time a bit but finished microseconds before it got embarrassing and I had to be physically taken down. The questions came and were thoughtful and evidence that people understood what I had been trying to say. No hostility, no attacks and some genuine interest. I was flabbergasted. I am still convinced that it was not the best paper I have ever given, but feedback forms from my peers suggest that it went better than I had feared/perceived so I’ll take that.
Getting it out of the way early meant that I got to sit and enjoy the rest of the symposium., and I am so grateful for the supportive and nurturing environment that the YLTA team have created. Hearing my peers offer their reflections from a wide range of disciplines and perspectives was incredibly interesting and useful and the sense of achievement I got from doing it, despite struggling was something I am going to try and hold on to, and part of the reason for the lengthy blog post. I am going to try and remember that I am capable of these things despite my mental health problems, and that my passion, even when not wholly agreed with is interesting to people and has merit. For me, in the end, going ‘bold’ was much better than going (staying) home.
YLTA Symposium Feedback from tutors present