Pedagogy of Anxiety

So this week was a bit anxiety riddled, eh. Well maybe a lot. I think our collective anxiety was enough to fuel a couple of nuclear power plants. For me the anxiety of the election during a pandemic was overlayed on a furnace that stopped working and needed replacement and my old cat who has good days and bad days, but certainly had more bad than good this week.

I spent time yesterday and today thinking about how all that anxiety manifests itself, especially in relation to pedagogy. A decade ago Katarzyna Marciniak published an article called “Pedagogy of Anxiety” in Signs (2010, 35.4,  pp.869-892). In it she refers to a pedagogy of anxiety which centres around the ethics of teaching texts that are traumatic. I think a decade later we are at a point where we certainly need to reflect on the ethics of teaching during traumatic times, let alone teaching texts that can be triggering or traumatic for those who have lost loved ones and acquaintances to the pandemic. Many have noted this need in Twitter threads, in podcasts, in blog posts, in their own pedagogical design. This is an important conversation and it is one that needs to be continued.

For me a pedagogy of anxiety also takes into account the anxiety of the learners, and the anxiety of the instructors, but also the anxiety of the place, space, time, and moment. For me a pedagogy of anxiety is integrally tied to my OCD, which is off the chain this week. Having a stranger person in my unit to fix the furnace, especially a stranger person that I need to argue with to wear a mask, and not say plug in his power tools on my cutting board in the kitchen when there are plugs in the basement where the furnace is, was peak anxiety this week. Add to this the anxiety of the noise and my cat being so so not happy at strangers in the space and being confined to the bedroom while all of this was happening. This anxiety affected the way that I could communicate while this was happening. It is difficult to compose an email or write a report when one eye is on the screen and one ear is in the hallway wondering why this person is wandering through my unit when again the furnace is downstairs.

This OCD and anxiety also extends to my list of to-dos. I am often very strict with myself in terms of what I want done and what should be done and this is something I need to work on more actively (there are limits and I need to acknowlege mine). Because of the trauma and anxiety of the Friday furnace fiasco (that would be a great electro jazz band name) I had to push some to-dos to Saturday morning, which if you read this blog and know me, I never do. But I had to, and it felt very very icky, and also reinscribed more anxiety. When the to-dos were done I joined in the worldwide celebration of the results. But today, again faced with a list of to-dos and feeling as though I had gotten little reprieve this weekend, the list was yet another source of anxiety. I forced myself to write 2000 words of a draft for an article, something that had been bugging me for at least 3 weekends. And now here I am writing this blog a few hours earlier than I normally do because I just don’t want to think about anything for a while. Yet, the fact that I have a new IKEA bookcase that I have to put together that I was going to do yesterday but didn’t because I was too tired, is there rattling in my mind.

I am sure that these seemingly small things happen in other people’s lives and some may deal with them in different ways, and others may deal with them in the similar anxiety riddled way I did this weekend. My shoulders are up to my ears, my jaw has been clenched since Friday morning. This sort of anxiety also trickles down to the teaching and learning space for those in academe. An educator’s life of anxiety becomes a pedagogy of anxiety, a learner’s life of anxiety frames the way they engage with content, context, and teaching. A pedagogy of anxiety is rushed, a pedagogy of anxiety leaves little time for reflection, a pedagogy of anxiety doesn’t have design elements that support choice, a pedagogy of anxiety doesn’t leave room for empathy and care in whatever way one chooses care.

Sometimes a pedagogy of anxiety is complete in its framing, meaning that every element of the teaching and learning experience is riddled with anxiety. Sometimes a pedagogy of anxiety only affects one element of a course (eproctoring “solutions” anyone). So my reflection suggestion for this week is look for instances of a pedagogy of anxiety in what you are engaging with and see how you can acknowledge it and possibly work with this in a different way. For me I am going to enjoy the exactly 20 mins of sunshine I have left on this deck and then actively try to pry my shoulders off my ears. Good luck everyone!


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