The Existential Fiat Studio

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I'm sitting here composing this post in a Fiat dealership studio, waiting for them to finish changing the oil in my saucy “rosso” Fiat 500 Pop.  And I’m lingering on the memory of a recent moment of radical self-doubt, the kind that all too often masks itself as an epiphany. I was sitting there grading another set of papers, making the same comments about the same things we've covered in class again and again, and I suddenly realized that it's not that I've made these same comments again and again in this class but in every class.  It was a startling, disorienting moment: a disturbing tunnel vision of the past in which I saw myself writing and writing over and over on and across nearly twenty years of student papers. The moment passed but left six words echoing in my mind: What the hell am I doing? It was, in every way, a "crit" moment.  It was critical—both in the sense of feeling like some sort of crucial juncture and (clearly) as a kind of self-damning indictment.  It was criticism—both in the sense of evaluating and analyzing the whole oeuvre of my work as a teacher and an act of careful judgment about what we do as teachers of writing as a whole.  It was crisis—perhaps the existential kind but equally perhaps the midlife kind (having just reached a “MOACA” stage in my life). These moments are, undoubtedly, a natural consequence of the kind of labor we’re called to do (as well as the cultural and financial esteem (or lack thereof) of such labor), but sitting here now I feel the “why” of it is not the point.  The point for me is the “what,” and not the “what” of “What the hell am I doing?” but the “what” of “What the hell do I do about this?” Is it time, perhaps, to change pedagogies—perhaps even radically so?  Is it time to rethink how and what I do?  Is it time for new technologies, new assignment designs, new courses? Or is it just time for a nap? You know, most people have no idea what we really do for a living.  I’m sure you’ve experienced it.  You’re at a party and someone asks you what you do and you say you’re a writing teacher / English professor and they invariably respond with “Uh-oh! I better watch my grammar!” (I always tell them not to worry because I’m off the clock).  The lived experience of teaching—with its joys yes but also with its doubts and crises and frustrations—is hidden. Thank goodness for blogs, for anonymous Internet venting, and for a decent espresso machine at a Fiat studio.
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About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.