I have over the years subjected readers of this blog to some very long, even essay-length, posts. This time, I offer my shortest, a reflection on the value of small gestures in our teaching.
Asao Inoue, this year’s chair of the Conference on College Composition and Communication, asked a number of members to write brief (200 words max) reflections on the interrelation of literacy, language, and social justice, a topic of special importance these days. The topic can also be daunting—where to begin?—and in this little piece of writing, I simply wanted to remind us of the impact of the work we do in our classrooms—and especially the small but significant ways we demonstrate commitment and decency.
I value the small stuff. The teacher who encourages a hesitant question; who remembers a student’s name outside the classroom; who in discussing a paper suggests a book, a podcast, a movie; who spends an extra five minutes in a conference; who checks in with a student who had difficulty with the last assignment. These are everyday signs of commitment, micro-evidence of care.
Over the years, I’ve interviewed a lot of students from kindergarten to adult education, and I’ve been struck by how meaningful the small stuff is to them, particularly to those students who feel out of place and, in some cases, are having a hard time of it. These behaviors register, I think, because of their everydayness, because they seem to flow naturally from who a particular teacher is and therefore are experienced as real, authentic. They signal that you, the student, matter, that your development is valuable, that you belong here.
Of course, the big things are important: curriculum, and pedagogy, and professional and political activities beyond the classroom. Of course. But a just and decent world is also created through the moment-by-moment interactions that foster growth and local community.