Introduction      Updating an Old Standard     The Body as Performative Mode     Performing the Cuss      Conclusion      Appendix A      Works Cited


This project begins from the premise that teaching is an embodied, interactive practice. Teachers bring what they know to classroom spaces, which includes received knowledge as much as it does knowledge grounded in bodily experiences. Understanding teaching as embodied and relational foregrounds bodies as sites of knowing and exchange, as Sarah Ahmed suggests when she writes that “knowledge cannot be separated from the bodily world of feeling and sensation; knowledge is bound up with what makes us sweat, shudder, tremble, all those feelings that are crucially felt on the bodily surface, the skin surface where we touch and are touched by the world" (171). In Ahmed's account, embodiment and performance, or the way bodies respond to and make contact with the world, are interconnected. In the context of teaching, we argue that multimodality is a promising framework for accessing and documenting embodied, performative knowing in medias res. More to the point, we claim that multimodality represents an apt teaching and learning tool because it draws attention to the performance aspects of teaching through which we make and re-make ourselves in the never-ending process of becoming teachers.

While traditional assignments in teacher-training courses, like a teaching philosophy statement, an analysis of response strategies, and a teaching demonstration, support new teacher development and professionalization, multimodal ones offer a distinctly different kind of learning experience. We are working with the definition of multimodal presented by Cynthia Selfe and Pamela Takayoshi in Multimodal Composition: Resources for Teachers (2007). Multimodal texts, they write, “exceed the alphabetic and may include still and moving images, animations, color, words, music and sound” (1; for more on defining multimodality, see Lauer; Selfe, “Movement”). In addition to those characteristics, multimodality for us highlights physicality, movement, and bodily comportment. Approaching the study of teaching with this view of multimodality inevitably sheds light on qualities that would have remained less apparent when addressed through alphabetic text. Multimodal projects have the potential to allow spontaneity and surprise into teacher-training, a form of readiness training that can too easily become a data dump, a staid effort either to convince students that, yes, there’s theory here or to prepare for every contingency one might encounter while teaching for the first time. Consuming most of our attention in this essay is the following: multimodality is a useful tool for constructing the classroom as a space that always entails intentional and unintentional performance modes.

Our view of teaching as performance begins from the assumption that teaching is temporally situated and embodied. Teaching involves staging to the extent that teachers use classroom arrangements and activities to build certain kinds of relations with and among students. Staging as a pedagogical practice suggests that teaching can be re-staged, revised, or embodied differently. Teaching and teachers are not inevitable but elastic categories permeated by possibility and play. To see teaching as performance also means that we acknowledge the important role that rituals and habits play in the formation of teaching subjects, permitting us to envision classroom performances as dynamic "constituting acts in that they help to articulate who we are and how we live through crafted narratives and familiar plot lines. They are also transformative acts capable of crafting new, shifting narratives that help us to live differently” (Micciche 51). This view differs substantially from understandings of performance as an inauthentic act of trickery. Jane Tompkins, in her 1990 "Pedagogies of the Distressed," models this view as she details her ultimate abandonment of what she calls "the performance model" of teaching. Performance, understood this way, is inherently negative, an impediment to self-actualized teaching. For Tompkins, performance in the classroom implies a cover for authentic presence and, by extension, encourages students to assume a false persona rather than risk charges of incompetence.

In the end, Tompkins expresses her transformation as a teacher through a change in metaphor. She moves from "teaching as performance" to "teaching as a maternal or coaching activity" (660). What's interesting, in light of our focus, is that the new metaphors are just as performance-based as the old one; assuming a maternal or coaching role is a deliberate choice that involves action, behavior, rehearsal, and embodiment. These roles, like the old one of expert teacher, establish specific kinds of relations with students. Indeed, according to performance studies practitioner Richard Schechner, performance "takes place as action, interaction, and relation" (30). Considering teaching as maternal activity suggests a relational stance that involves, among other actions, caring for and protecting others. Every stance, movement, attitude, orientation, and delivery mode constitutes performance since each develops relations, establishes norms and rituals, and constitutes acceptable and unacceptable behavior within a particular pedagogical space. When we raise awareness of ourselves as performing subjects, we are better positioned to make deliberate choices about how to craft our teaching personas for always changing situations.

We believe that teacher identity is constituted through a series of acts performed in the classroom. Gestures, vocal tendencies, listening practices, and movements, among other things, produce us as teachers. Through the repetition of these acts, we come to occupy the role of teacher; we become teacher. Yet composing teacher identity is not a wide-open vista; it happens within the context of what appear to be viable roles. In the case of college-level writing teachers, viable roles might be communicated through the example of past teachers, through disciplinary scholarship and the kinds of subject positions made available (i.e., via the lens of student-centered pedagogy; critical pedagogy; feminist pedagogy), through one’s experience with academic writing, as well as through a particular program’s values and principles. Much like Judith Butler’s description of gender performances as “never quite carried out according to expectation…[the] addressee never quite inhabits the ideal s/he is compelled to approximate,” performing teacher has the potential to be resistant rather than normative and the likelihood of being experienced as radically unstable because never quite finalized (Bodies 231). One aspect of Butler’s project is to reveal and critique the way gender, through the repetition of acts, “congeal[s] over time to produce the appearance of substance, of a natural sort of being” (Gender 43-44). This production, accomplished through the citation of compulsory gender norms, is itself performative and therefore crafted, not simply expressed. Such performances are carried out at the level of the body.

In what follows, we suggest that pedagogical performances present opportunities for productive inquiry and contend that new teachers in particular have much to gain when this kind of work is integral to teacher-training. Our experience demonstrates that when teachers are asked to produce multimodal projects about teaching, they end up connecting theory and practice, knowing and doing, in ways that deepen their connection to teaching as a living art. As we’ll demonstrate, multimodality is a promising method for investigating and rendering teaching as performance. This robust and unique form of teacher research reveals repetitious acts that constitute and re-constitute teaching practice. Multimodality, moreover, is a method of teacher inquiry that complements and extends text-centered genres like teacher observation reports, reflective writing tasks, and teaching journals.

This essay proceeds in three voices: in the first section, Laura writes about integrating multimodal assignments in her Teaching College Writing (TCW) graduate seminar for new teachers; the second section features Hannah, a doctoral student in rhetoric and composition, who discusses her multimodal exploration of teacherly embodiment, originally completed while she was a student in TCW; and in the third section Liv, a Master’s student in creative writing, explores her audio project, also completed for TCW, in which she focuses on profanity in the composition classroom. In the final section, we reference several other multimodal projects completed in TCW and highlight the value of this work for teacher development.

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Introduction      Updating an Old Standard     The Body as Performative Mode     Performing the Cuss      Conclusion      Appendix A      Works Cited