What I’ve been doing besides blogging, Part 1: Teaching!

As I’m sure you know, I’ve been teaching for several years and that didn’t stop me from blogging. But this quarter, I taught the first class that I had designed myself. And it was a helluva lot harder than I thought it would be. While I thought the hard part would be choosing the readings and writing the syllabus, it turned out that this was the easy part. I forgot I would actually have to teach said readings. Oops. And that meant figuring what to do during each class–figuring what to do that actually involved students learning. Lordy, Lordy. And I’m not sure I actually succeeded in this. It could have been that I had two classes of shy, bored, or mute students. More likely, I was doing something wrong. I couldn’t get them to speak. Even when I knew they had read, they didn’t speak. It was weird.

I tried youth-ish audio-visual aides, and, still, only three or four kids would speak. Even after showing these two videos and asking them to analyze them in light of Marita Sturken’s “AIDS and the Politics of Representation.” Barely a peep.

Okay, I got a peep from these. But it was mostly nervous laughter. It’s possible that I had such stilted discussions because the kids were too nervous of saying something politically incorrect that they chose silence in order to be safe. It’s also possible that they didn’t care. And it’s possible that discussing AIDS at 8am is just too much for Generation Whine, er, Generation Y.

So, I was pretty worried about where the class was heading.

And then I made some scheduling errors. Actually, they were disasters. And Firestorm 2007!!! happened. And so on. And I started overworking on the class. My comments on their research paper proposals, annotated bibliographies, and paper drafts were rather detailed. Probably too much so, considering how much I’m being paid. And I kept meeting with students, beyond my office hours. Which isn’t really my job. But as I told my students, my goal is not a bell curve of grades. I want everyone to get an A. And that means I have to work with them. And work with them.

Wonderfully, I’m more than two-thirds of the way through the final papers and while a few are not good–a couple students got really, really lazy–there are some papers better than anything I’ve read at UCSD prior to this quarter. Some seem to be on the level of good graduate students. And, no, I’m not high. I still have eight more to read, so it’s possible I may end up with a bell. But it’s looking more parabolic, with y and x getting pretty high. I have no idea if that makes any sense.

Don Tuzin

I don’t know how many anthropologists or UCSD students read this blog, so the name Don Tuzin may not mean much to this blog’s readers. He was the senior member of the Department of Anthropology at UCSD, and he died on Sunday after what sounds like a short and inexplicable illness. I never had the chance to take a class with him, but I had the pleasure of having several long conversations with Don at a few department receptions. He was gregarious and fascinating and kind in those conversations, and he also had the most amazing stories–about drinking Scotch with Margaret Mead in his hut in Papua New Guinea during his field work, about annoying Mary Douglas by choosing to go grad school somewhere besides where she was, about penile bloodletting, which he wrote and lectured a good deal about. (In fact, the whole penile bloodletting thing is so famous around the department that for the grad student picnic last fall, a penile bloodletting cake was made–with a twig stuck in the urethra, as they do in PNG, and strawberry filling doubling as blood.) He was also interested in the whole intersexual issue, which I’m fascinated by, too, and we talked for a while about John/Joan and my experience reporting on ISNA. Anyway, Don was a great guy and a major figure on campus and in Melanesian anthropology, and he’ll be missed. After the jump I’ve posted the press release from UCSD.