What Class are Teachers?

There’s an insightful discussion of the academic labor market over at the consistently excellent Invisible Adjunct. Reading the posts there led me to ask whether I should rethink the way I’ve circumscribed my examination of class to focus on students: after all, if I’m going to argue that class structures are enacted, negotiated, altered, or reproduced in the college writing classroom, teachers are certainly components of those class structures. As instructors, teachers may be reasonably expected to foster a student’s class mobility, while at the same time standing as a member of a class to which the student does not belong.

And, of course, it’s even more complicated than it might initially appear, as Cindy at Making Contact starts to get at in her response to Jill Carroll’s Chronicle article. Interestingly, Cindy could be seen from a Marxist/Marxian (I still don’t know the difference between the two, though I think the former is the orthodox stance, and the latter is the reformed stance) perspective as suggesting that teaching assistants in English are more in control of the means of production than those in other disciplines, and are therefore less alienated from the product of their labor. (Well, maybe that again depends on how we define “production” and “product.” Dang.) Furthermore, there’s the additional complicating factor — how many layers are we gonna add here? — that teaching assistants are classed both as graduate students and as instructors. As instructors, I think their status is lower than that of adjuncts, which is sort of what Carroll is getting at, but as graduate students, I think they have more of a stake in what goes on in departments than adjuncts do, since they have more of a connection (via seminars, advising, committees) to professors than do the casual-laborer adjuncts. (Obviously, this varies from institution to institution, and I’m making some sweeping generalizations.) Maybe I should just draw a picture of all the hierarchies in academia and that would make things easier for me to sort out.

Anyway: all the complications here tell me that I probably should keep my examination of class in the classroom circumscribed to the class of students. Throwing the various classes of teachers into the mix creates too many additional headaches: I think I can maybe acknowledge the complications in the dissertation’s first chapter by zooming in through the concentric circles of class until I’m at the level of the student in the classroom, and that might be good enough. Like those telescopes where you put in a quarter and increase the magnification notch by notch: here’s how universities fit into the class structure in contemporary American society, here’s the hierarchy of how universities themselves are classed, here’s the hierarchy of how disciplines (including composition) are classed within the university, here’s the hierarchy of how teachers (including professors, adjuncts, and teaching assistants) are classed within those disciplines, so now let’s take a close look at how students are classed within the discipline of composition, and also how the structure of those concentric circles around the composition classroom affect that class-ification.

What Class are Teachers?

One thought on “What Class are Teachers?

  • June 28, 2003 at 8:00 pm

    Interesting stuff!

    Good luck on keeping the variables down; that was the hardest part about writing my own dissertation — getting all the pieces corralled into thought-size chunks.

Comments are closed.