91 days to fall: Finding my voice (and courage)

I wanted to share a little bit about the two presentations I’ll be giving in early June as part of the Teaching Professor Conference — a small portion of which is ACTUALLY HAPPENING IN PERSON (!!!) in New Orleans.

I’ll talk more about this tomorrow, but today I thought I’d write a little about the back story of my Teaching Professor journey.

I first attended this conference in 2019 as an attendee. I soaked up the energy of passionate teachers from all around the world, losing myself in a sea of humanity in very large lecture halls and packed breakout rooms. And the whole time I was there, I had two thoughts running through my head simultaenously:


Thought 2: “I could totally be giving one of these presentations right now.” <shrug>

It was that second thought that really lingered, though. It was the dawning realization that I’ve reached a stage in my teaching career where I’m not so different from the “experts” who stand up and dole out stories about strategies tried or pedagogies embraced. Indeed, in one session, I listened to a well-known and well-regarded college faculty member talk about “these kids” (his students) and felt myself get progressively more frustrated by the othering of the very people he claims to love enough to teach.

And so I decided: I can do this, too.

But … how? What? Where? Can I *really*?!

The thing was, I had to decide what “this” meant for me. Was it giving talks at teaching conferences? I’ve given gobs of talks at disciplinary conferences and don’t see it as all THAT big of a deal. This inner tug felt like something more substantial than just shifting to a different kind of conference to pitch a presentation.

Was it … something more than giving talks at teaching conferences?


As I sat with that question, I knew that it was. It definitely was more.

The first thing I did was have a serious case of imposter-syndrome anxiety. My inner critic screamed: “WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?!?!” (That’s what the inner critic does best.)

Then, I decided to sign up for a vacant spot at Jen Louden’s nonfiction writing retreat in Taos, taking place in just a couple of months. I’d thought about going to a writing retreat with Jen before, but I really wasn’t sure what I’d write about or whether it was the right move. But with this niggling sense that I had more than just a conference talk in me, I decided to go.

(And then I had another serious case of imposter-syndrome anxiety, which I wrote about here.)

I spent my week in the altogether-too-hot-for-me Taos writing short little essay-type musings about teaching. I didn’t have an outline or destination in mind, just a sense that I needed to let my thoughts flood the page … so I could see what I was dealing with.

That initial document ran over 50 single-spaced pages. It was a hodgepodge of all kinds of thoughts, stories, and lessons from my teaching career thus far. What would I do with this? I had no idea. But I could see that a teaching book was definitely inhabiting my soul, and it was starting to feel like maybe I had the courage to let it come out.

A tentative first step

I took one of the most urgent of my writing snippets and submitted it to the 2020 Teaching Professor conference as a proposal for a 60-minute session. The conference later swerved to a virtual one (thanks #covid), so I assembled a slide deck, scheduled a recording slot, and gave my “presentation” to a very nice AV producer, who recorded it and turned it into one of many presentations for the virtual conference. It was simultaneously exciting (I AM DOING THE THING!) and anti-climatic (will anybody even watch this?!). And off my presentation went into the ether.

I repurposed that slide deck as a talk for our statewide system of community colleges the next January. I then got the exciting news that my talk had been one of the better rated of the conference (oh happy day!) and that I was invited to both write up a short article to include in the “Best Of” publication (which you can request for free here!) and to present again in 2021 as an invited speaker (gasp!).

So … that’s where I’ll leave you until tomorrow, when I’ll talk about what I’m cooking up for this year’s conference. I’m super excited!

Come back soon for more installments of the #100DaysToFall series. In the meantime, thanks for reading! Follow me on Twitter at @liznorell.

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