Emotional Realities of Educationby Jan Janes on November 14, 2019
Faculty explore cultural dynamics of the classroom in three on-campus workshops
Gavilan College faculty gathered in the library on a warm fall day to attend one of three workshops about the ways teaching and learning stir emotion.
Dr. Tapo Chimbganda, author, educator and psychoanalyst, presented Weaving a Teaching Matrix, Structures of Feeling and The Classroom as a Privileged Space.
Chimbganda defined the matrix as a construct that reaches across all the participants, themes and experiences. “It influences how we teach, partly based on how we were taught,” she said.
Faculty spent time sharing thoughts from their own student, early and current teaching experiences and then worked in small groups to reflect on connections.
Teaching: The Impossible Profession
Chimbganda encouraged faculty to think about themselves in the culture of the teaching role, and then to identify whose culture it is. She brought to the discussion the concept of transference, ways it occurs and responses elicited based on students’ prior experiences.
“Transference is necessary for learning,” said Chimbganda. “Without transference, there is no education.”
Faculty discussed the various venues in which they teach, and how both teachers and students are measured. One instructor described teaching at risk populations outside the college, as well as within the college institutional structure. In each, both the teacher and student were measured on different results. Students want to achieve good grades. At the same time, teachers have other things they hope students carry away from their classes.
“Learn about the cultures of your students,” said Chimbganda. “Identify diversity, equity, inclusion, and find a way to bring different cultures into the space.”
Imagine the classroom as a place where all the repressed issues of students show up, but the teacher just doesn’t know, yet, what they are.
Attending an instructor’s class might be the first time a student can work through some of the issues they are carrying around. At times, students arrive with an idealized vision of what the class will be, a fantasy of themselves as perfect students, and how the teacher fits into that fantasy.
“Are you making space for people who have trauma?” Chimbganda asked.
“If you remind a student of a past experience,” she said. “They may interact with the class or with you based on their past.” She suggested ways to help students understand faculty the first day of class, and to move them past their initial frame about the role of teacher.
Setting the Classroom
The classroom, as a space where students work through issues, such as anger or anxiety, offers tools for instructors to use.
“Students deal with their trauma in the classroom,” said Chimbganda. “They will put you into their emotional space.”
She described what occurs next: Once an emotion is released in a space, a classroom, it no longer just belongs to the individual. It becomes part of the classroom experience, a shared experience by all in attendance.
“Think about the history of what comes into our spaces,” she said. “Address that directly.”
Group discussion about the classroom as safe space evoked multiple responses. What kind of space does a teacher create when they, themselves, do not feel safe? Can the teacher enlist the students to address an unsafe situation and find solutions? Students agree some class material – math or foreign languages – is scary. Making mistakes is how they learn, especially if they band together to navigate. One instructor offered a shift in nomenclature from safe space to brave space, and ultimately, shared space.
“We ‘learn’ to learn,” said Chimbganda. “We see the passion for alterity, the desire to learn from others.”
She asked the participants to be willing to learn from their students, and to think of the classroom as the students’ place for imperfection. For teachers, even more important than the learning outcomes the institution focuses on, is to teach beyond the transcript. Students may be initially resistant, out of their comfort zones. Acknowledge that, in the classroom, students will make mistakes, be annoyed, frustrated, feel anger. And reiterate that message.
“Education has become a one-size-fits-all,” she said. “But society isn’t, and life isn’t.”
Structures of Feeling
Chimbganda defined it as “An approach that views emotionality as cultural material that is ever changing, with zeitgeist in form and value as well as possession, an everyday commodity.”
She posited that understanding comes from personal experience, queried how much thought goes into the thoughts teachers have of their students, and challenged the concepts of empathy and equity in the classroom.
“We need to create a space where everyone can learn from one another through sharing experiences,” she said, and to free students who have been taught to be silent.
** Tapo Chimbganda, PhD Education, Language, culture and teaching, Masters, Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, is an educator, therapist and the author of Privileged Space: A Psychoanalytic Paradigm for Pedagogy