The end of a semester, a year, a job. At the end of this month, I’ll be done with my visiting position at Pomona College.
As I’ve written before, teaching is fun but tiring – like putting on a performance. I also felt that I had to be an expert of everything, like taking a quiz every day. My intro to IR class this spring was so dynamic and curious, but that meant that I always had to be on. Nuclear physics one day, immigration law the next.
The Claremont Colleges have a great Center for Teaching and Learning, where I took advantage of a book club, a diversity discussion group, and a few other workshops. These were potentially my favorite part of the job – learning from novice and experienced professors from all kinds of disciplines how they deal with some of the classroom challenges that I thought only I had.
I had been worried throughout the fall semester, my first time teaching full-time, that injecting too much of my personality and particularly my motivations behind my political stances and teaching style would be inappropriate. But I realized (with the help of the reading group) that not only do students want to know their instructors’ feelings, my own teaching motivation is much stronger when I am a professional version of myself.
A quick version of this: in intro to IR, we were covering international security and shifts in weapons types and technologies after the end of the Cold War. This is not something I know well, and in fact, I am ethically opposed to the creation and use of weapons for national security purposes. Instead of declaring this to my class, however, I showed footage from the 1992 Gulf War, which was really the first time that video had been a part of the weapons themselves, broadcast immediately, and shown on television. I was in middle school at the time, and I believe that watching missiles, through the eyes of the missile itself, guide itself down a chimney and to other exact targets shocked me so much that it shaped my core beliefs and most likely my career.
I showed a few of these videos to my class and explained about how these weapons changed how modern war is fought, as well as how they have changed how Americans understand our own foreign policy. We also talked about how shocking these videos were at the time and how they still are, now that there are few images from guided missiles shown to the public any longer. Showing the class my own history and identity as it came out of a political event I think was one of the most effective lessons I’ve learned myself this year.
Travel and research notes
Fieldwork and travel in Côte d'Ivoire, Senegal, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Mali, as well as Burkina Faso, Morocco, Tanzania, South Africa, and wherever else I end up. Plus occasional research-related thoughts. And now ... Teaching!