Friday, October 9, 2009

Teaching in these times

I'm in the midst of living an upside down life, I'm finding teaching to be extra rich and rewarding--even on the days I'd rather walk on the beach or curl up in bed, trying to speed my healing.

Perhaps it's because I look out into the classroom and remind my tender, raw self that each person there has a whole world. A world of love, connection, pain, loss. I'm being re-reminded that teaching, for me, is about connecting with people, really listening to one another, and providing students opportunities to express themselves, to cultivate curiosity, and to explore words and worlds.

In my Queer Film class, we are watching Milk this week. As students watch it, I ask them to jot down questions. The last few minutes of class, we discuss their questions, and I ask them to look them up and bring what they find to class. They are looking up everything from "Who's Cleve Jones?" to "Where is gay marriage legal in the world?"

I'm also teaching a section of English 1B (second semester Frosh Comp). Students are reading memoirs in groups and developing questions out of them that will lead to research questions. For instance, one group is reading Colby Buzzell's My War, and one research question coming out of that book is: How does post-traumatic stress affect veterans? Another group is reading Jennifer Finney Boylan's She's Not There, and a research question coming out of that book is: When do most transgendered people begin to feel they are in the "wrong body"--and what are the possible options for what to do about it?

One young woman who is reading Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is developing a fascinating question related to whether or not religion is, as she put it, the opiate of the African-American community. Another group who is reading Andrew Pham's Catfish and Mandala--the story of a young Vietnamese-American guy who rides his bike across Vietnam--is developing questions related to bicycling infrastructure.

I'm trying to teach them that asking questions as they read helps them understand how books connect to the world.

Also this semester I'm teaching a Fiction Writing workshop. It's fun to read several student stories a week, to see what their minds have created. And I'm teaching Introduction to Creative Writing. We just finished our memoir unit, and now we're moving on to fiction, with a focus on flash fiction.

On Tuesday the 13th, Mary Roach is coming to speak on campus, then later this month we have Kim Addonizio and next month, Denis Johnson. In spite of furloughs, a 10 percent pay cut (yep, we all got them) and all the weirdness that is our horrible state budget (and is my divorce), I'm trying to remind myself that I'm lucky to get to work in a world where books, words and people matter.
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