Teaching, though it is often contained in a classroom, is a complex social action. While every student is producing something towards their own goals, learning is a collaborative endeavor, and every student is a participant who brings a set of knowledge and experiences that then helps compose complex activities. Students are all navigating internal struggles and personal relationships as well as negotiating with seemingly unrelated factors that may include their own relationships to technology, knowledge of texts, relationships to texts, and their cultural backgrounds, to name only a few. Because we are working with and within collective knowledge structures, textbooks, software systems, laptops, writing instruments, the number of moving parts can be overwhelming, and the amount of work involved in directing those moving parts to fit the goals of the class requires patience and focus.
Considering these frameworks and networks, my primary aim when teaching is to help students become thoughtful contributors to the limitless systems within which they are embedded. For Bruno Latour, any movement within a network is constantly disrupted by other actants within that network. I see teaching as an act that can disrupt a prior set of knowledge or convictions, and ways of doing and being in the world. At the same time, when we are helping students learn, that knowledge will not exist in a vacuum. It will go on to inform ways of knowing, ways of interacting with information, ways of being in the world.
At first glance, this orientation I’ve just described might make teaching seem self-important. But as someone who teaches, I realize that I am also just another moving part in the networks that map the boundaries of my students, who also influence me. In Reassembling the Social, Latour argues that “[r]elating to one group or another is an on-going process made up of uncertain, fragile, controversial, and ever-shifting ties” (28). This statement always felt extremely relevant to teaching, because I have often noticed how practices evolve through interactions with my students. I am constantly reshaping my own processes so that I can reshape theirs, always listening to and learning from their own experiences and world views. Over the course of our lives, there are an infinite number of factors that help us along down different paths, and I can only give my students the best tools that I have in the hopes that they will take those with them into the world and distribute them responsibly.