Course Planning: On Feeling Seen and Heard (Part One)

While I’m looking toward the new semester, I’m thinking about how I might be the kind of professor who inspires.  My most impactful teachers were the ones who made me feel smart; they stimulated my curiosity, they seemed to take all of my ideas (even the far-out ones) seriously, and they encouraged me to think rigorously.  As I follow their examples, I try to foster communities of learning in which students feel seen and heard.

2020 was/is a nightmare.  And its 2021.  We all know the many reasons why.  Yet, in all this, students are still showing up to college.  They’ve got their reasons; and, hopefully, some of those reasons include their dreams.  Our students will inherit this earth; my ambition is to assist them as they develop the skills they will need to create a future that sees them, hears, them, and empowers them.

In my class preparations, I’ve been re-visiting classics like the “Combahee River Statement,” Freedom Dreams:  The Black Radical Imagination, and Poetry for the People: A Revolutionary Blueprint.  And in search of my own critical creativity, I’ve been exploring new works like Alexis Pauline Gumbs’ Undrowned:  Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals, May Joseph’s ghosts of lumumba, and Felicia Rose Chavez’s The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop.  If the expectation is that students become lifelong learners, then their teachers should aspire to the same.

“The map to a new world is the imagination, ” so my teaching plan is to embrace this possibility.  Next semester, one of my courses is an interdisciplinary seminar in Black and Latinx Studies. This will be my first time teaching it, and I am excited!  Its ultimate learning goal is a researched project: I wonder what kinds of questions will animate the students, how will they conceptualize their projects, and what will our co-created syllabus look like?  I’ve written them a letter.  Our first meeting (on Zoom) is a few days away.  My plan is to begin by practicing listening.  I will ask them to think about freedom, of three desires, one simple, one ambitious, and one outlandish.  We’ll go, two by two , into break out rooms and listen to another person’s dreams.  Think-Pair-Share.  As an exercise in structural equality, it affords Total Participation.  When we come back together, we’ll share some more on a whiteboard.  I hope in this first day each person in our virtual togetherness feels seen and heard (even if they choose to keep their cameras off).  From there, we will start building.

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