Emotional Labor as Imposters: Working-Class Literacy Narratives and Academic Identities

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By teaching writing I am asking students to buy into an academic identity and to learn to write like a member of what I have sarcastically called the discourse community country club. I also know that teaching this prestigious discourse to working-class students places them in a subordinate status to those who have been privileged by the academy.1 Language is a class marker that can expose inferiority with one error in punctuation, word ending, or pronunciation. Conversely, hearing, speaking, or writing one small turn of phrase from my working-class roots can be ethically satisfying.2 Language is so powerful that its use creates us as uncomfortable outsiders or welcomed insiders. Language contains a shifting terrain of ideologies we cannot talk ourselves out of. We both speak and are spoken to by language. Unless I address how learning academic language can make working-class students feel like imposters or traitors, I am denying the potential social injustice embedded in my job as a writing teacher. And teaching the literacy narrative presents the possibility of critically analyzing the emotional labor that cannot be separated from academic identity formation. Like most teachers, my approach to teaching literacy narratives began with trial and error. I have taught variations of this assignment in several courses from first-year to graduate level. Fortunately, I quickly gave up asking students to write a history of their school experiences, which I believe boxes students into composing predictable glosses. I began problematizing the way I taught literacy narratives at Wright State University to working-class students, assisted by my readings from critical theories about identity and emotion. The first section of this chapter discusses the life process of identity formation in order to establish the significance of narrative writing. The next section describes the imposter phenomenon Emotional Labor as Imposters.



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