Learning the first class

Posted on: Sep 7, 2007

I have always wanted to teach. For me, teaching is one powerful profession that has the capacity to effect change in the lives of those who actively participate in the learning process. In the classroom, I love the dynamics that transpires between the teacher and the students, and the ways by which topics and issues are discussed and debated upon. But what fascinates me is when such teacher-student interaction brings forth real learning, that is, when the lesson learned in the classroom leaves an imprint on the mind of the students beyond time and space.

Part of my PhD training here at Dalhousie University is teaching a course in our department. However, I chose a different path by developing an elective course not only for our Sociology and Social Anthropology department but for the entire Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, and for other faculties as well. I thought of teaching a first year course on the various conceptions of cultures and societies using both the Western and Non-Western perspectives. To give it more focus, I designed it primarily for international students whom I thought will most need this type of course. I was fortunate to have been given the chance by our faculty’s academic council to teach this half-credit elective course this Fall term 2007-2008. The title of the course is Culture, Society and International Students.

Yesterday was my very first class. Out of the 14 who registered, 11 came. Not a bad attendance for a first day class, although I know that for some students, this day is like “shopping day”; they go from one class to another to see and feel which class suits them best! (I do not have a problem with this, only that I find it fascinating on how higher education in different parts of the world seems to be managed and driven by the dynamics of consumerism that has truly defined our present world order.) I wonder about the other three who did not make it? At any rate, I proceeded with the orientation to know who my students are; what faculty and department they are from; and what made them choose my course.

It’s an elective and most of them are candid enough to express that they think my course is an “easy” one. By “easy” it means that the course will not require so much of their time compared to the core courses that they are currently taking. Hmm.., they might be in the right elective course because I did not design the course to be “too heavy” for the students. The list of readings is short but insightful, and the requirements, in my view, are to a certain degree, “light”. However, what impacts me most is the nature of this metaphorical discussion about the elective class being “easy and light”, leading me to think that somewhere in the educational socialization of these students, studying appears to have become more of a task to accomplish or likened to a job to fulfill. The payment, of course, is the promise of “good” employment in the future. I cannot blame my students to think and feel this way because they know that they are preparing to run the “rat race” of the real world.

Thus, I ask myself, what about learning? I did not design the course for my students to just pass one more elective. Rather, I seek teaching this course as an educational opportunity to propose the making of significant learning experiences (Fink, 2003) with my students. I know that this process will entail good communication skills, creative class activities and lots of negotiations within and outside the classroom between me and my students.

Am I ready for the task? I am. But the significant learning experiences in my class will only occur when my fascination to teach is coupled by my students’ desire to learn. As I am excited to share whatever it is that I know about culture and society, I am hoping that most of my students will find it meaningful to participate in all our class activities, and thus, we shall learn together lessons that will leave an imprint in our respective lives.
Reference: Fink, L. D. (2003). Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integration Approach to Designing College Courses. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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