I wonder, sometimes, whether my relationship status matters to my students. Right now, I’m teaching an introduction to folklore course, so I’m not a straight-up sex educator or researcher, though I do frequently bring gendered topics into the classroom. Still, Dr. Debby’s post on how being considered conventionally attractive influences her pull as a sex educator/researcher resonates for me. I know that dressing smartly in the classroom helps to hold students’ attention. I take pleasure in fashion to a degree, and I tend not to subscribe to the belief that beauty and brains cannot coexist.
However, should I tell students that I’m married? Does it matter? Will it affect how they perceive my teaching skills, my attractiveness, my personality, my fairness? I’ve already written about why I prefer not to let on that I have a partner in my blog posts (basically, since our society is still very silly about making judgments about women whether they are paired off or not).
But in my folklore classes, I tend to emphasize that folklore is in all of our lives: we all use slang, we all tell jokes and stories, and we all participate in celebrations and holidays and festivals. Sure, not everyone’s an accomplished ballad singer or riddle teller, but everyone has at least some folklore in their lives. I use a lot of examples from my life, such as when I teach about personal experience narratives (and boy, do I have a lot of those, since I’ve traveled a bunch). My students all recounted their own personal narratives during that class, ranging from ghost encounters to funny stories about sibling conflicts.
To me, that’s what so exciting about folklore: we all participate in it and shape it and are transformed by it. We preserve old traditions and create new ones too.
And yet I balked at mentioning my own wedding when we were discussing rituals and rites of passage. I’m sure I could’ve made some pertinent points about how my personal choices while planning my wedding reflected my identity while at the same time showing tension with the way weddings are traditionally “supposed” to be. But… I just didn’t bring it up. It’s not that I wanted to maintain an illusion of availability to my students (because first, ew, and second, I wear a ring). I just felt uncomfortable bringing that much of my personal life into the classroom. Besides, I think I’m justified a bit of paranoia given the prevalence of gendered micro-inequities in academia.
At another time, I asked students to write an in-class paper analyzing a personal narrative I’d told them about a funny experience I’d had in north-east India. I had told students at the beginning of the semester that they could call me Dr. Jorgensen if they really wanted to, but that Jeana is fine, as I see no reason to stand on formalities. And yet in their papers, a few students called me by other inventions. Some involved “Mrs.” In the next class, I pleasantly reminded them to call me “Dr.” if they want to use a title, and I tried to turn it into a teaching moment, since they’re going to be handing in folklore collections at the end of the semester, and it’d be considerate of them to take into account what their informants want to be called.
There are undoubtedly times when it’s a good teaching strategy to discuss aspects of one’s relationship status. This post by Mr. Health Educator is an excellent example of this application. I’m not sure why I’m so resistant to disclosing my relationship status in the classroom. Maybe I’m worried my students will think less of me? Maybe I like to keep certain aspects of my personal life out of the classroom? Maybe I don’t want to give them any more reasons to employ the term “Mrs.”?
Teaching always presents new and exciting challenges, and I guess this is just one of them. However, I’d love to hear how other educators navigate relationship status disclosure – if at all!
Follow us on Twitter @mysexprofessor. Follow Jeana, the author of this post, @foxyfolklorist.