This week is finals week at school. I have the exam ready for Tuesday’s class, and only need to make a few tweaks to Thursday’s exam before it, too, is ready to go. I have mixed feelings at the end of the semester because I am sad to see another crop of students go on their way, but I am also glad to get a break from having to stand in front of 40 people and educate and entertain (edutain?) them for three hours twice a week for sixteen weeks.
I have now been teaching at CSUSM for three years, and I still love just about every minute of it. Now, don’t take this the wrong way, because I certainly appreciate the extra money, but I would do this for free. Part of the reason I love teaching so much is purely selfish: I like being at the front of the classroom, I like the feeling of power – and responsibility – that comes from introducing the students to new ideas, I enjoy the attention and the accolades. But, the real reason I love teaching is because of the look I sometimes see on their faces when contemplating a new idea for the first time: the look of dawning comprehension, or joyous understanding, or best of all, the emphatic nods of agreement when a student realizes that something they had already thought of, on their own, is being confirmed by what they are learning in class. Sometimes students have come to me to tell me that my class is the first time they have ever heard a teacher give voice to some of their own ideas about the world, and the people in it. This is one of the greatest things about anthropology: it is an ideal vehicle for introducing people to new ways of thinking and understanding – not just about so-called exotic cultures, but about the students’ own culture(s).
I am fully aware of how powerful my position is in front of the classroom. My classes are generally heavily weighted towards freshmen students, and I try to tread delicately as I introduce them to concepts and ways of thinking to which they may not yet have been exposed. I know that this is probably the only anthropology class they will ever take (although I have had repeat students, since I teach two different classes). I just leave each semester hoping that I have taught these students something worthwhile – something beyond just random factoids about other ways of life. I hope they remember to be skeptical, think critically, withhold judgment, be objective, and have a healthy respect for that which is different without succumbing to moral relativity, all while making rational decisions about how to navigate our rapidly changing world in an ethical way. Heh – I don’t want much from them, do I? And I certainly am not arrogant enough to think I can teach them all those things… but I do what I can, and I am grateful for the opportunity.