I Am Thankful, But I Am Tired: Working for Nuns

I teach at a small, Catholic liberal arts university founded by an order of nuns who are guided by relatively progressive core values that direct both their ministry and our institution’s mission. (Though Catholic in mission, the institution welcomes–and even seeks–a diversity of faiths in its faculty, staff, and students. I, for example, am raised Catholic but have explored many faiths and not landed on any one in particular. I made my agnosticism clear during my interview.) These values I vaguely refer to contain commitments to justice, knowledge, choice, and compassion–all of which could be embraced by many faiths. Another feature of our founding order of women religious–and one that is not officially recorded anywhere but is universally understood–is their commitment to their work. What this looks like at my institution is a long history of women who had the passion and, more importantly for my purposes here, the time in the day, to commit to founding and maintaining an institution of higher education. Education became their calling and, therefore, consumed their lives.

Since the institution’s founding, 14 of the 17 presidents have been members of the founding order. This means that 92 of the institution’s 116 years of existence have been shaped directly by an institutional ethos of work, work, work. It was present five years ago when I arrived: (a) what I like most about ____ is that we all honor the tradition and are willing to do whatever it takes for our students to succeed, (b) we all work hard around here because we believe in the mission and in our roles as contributors to a larger cause, c) you won’t see anyone work harder than a nun, but we all try! In year one, this commitment to the institution/community was inspiring. In year five, it’s exhausting and has me reevaluating what my role is/has been versus what my role should be. Continue reading

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Authentic Voice in the Age of the Online Self

As a teacher of literature, I am often examining with my students the idea of voice in a piece of writing. What is it? Where is it? How is it produced? What is our reaction to it? How does it interact with content? How might the voice employed intersect with the cultural concerns or historical events of its time? Though often a challenging exercise that requires much prompting and directing from me, I often think the voice of a work of literature acts as its consciousness, so to neglect it is to bypass important tenants at the core of the humanities: examining what it means to be human and examining the power of words among others.

As a teacher of writing, (which I am for the remaining half of my courses), I don’t stop there. I challenge my students to develop their own voice in their writing. This is a nearly impossible task as the majority of my students enter my classroom with stilted college preparatory writing skills and they are, on the whole, mediocre at that. To them, writing has always been an act in service to something else. A paper is a product for assessment–a recitation of knowledge rather than a new opportunity to learn. The voice of the paper is nonexistent, accidental, or, worse, an audience-less and purposeless imagination of what they think their teacher expects. While students can often get by with this, and sometimes even do well in the “right” class, for my mid- and upper-division writing courses, I want my students to not only develop a voice, but one that is authentic. Continue reading