Submitted by Steven Titus, English
Quite often in education a teacher might question whether their material is accessible and will impact the lives of their students beyond the hours spent with them in the classroom. After teaching for ten years in the English and Humanities departments I still find myself tweaking lessons, readings, and assignments to make them resonate in my students’ collective academic experiences.
A few years back I had the pleasure of participating in one of the Academy’s first communities of practice – Reflective Teaching Practices: Discovering and articulating your teaching practice. This CoP helped open doors for adjuncts like myself to engage with readings and practices that they felt would best lead to student success and a more motivated classroom. I began to wonder if I could embrace what might be lacking for students when they walk into some classrooms – access to stories they can see themselves in. I certainly knew excuses for not teaching, for example, more female composers and artists in the Humanities wouldn’t cut it.
In any level of education, from grade school to higher ed, there is a danger of following the status quo of teaching ethnocentric approaches and a homogenous vision of culture. Each semester I look out into a sea of faces from Eastern Europe, Latin America, Africa, Asia, and the myriad of cultures and identities that evolve in America. To deny my English and Humanities students readings and lessons that help them engage with their cultural identity would be denying them a representative seat at the table. In my English 102 class I chose authors that focused on conversations of race, social class, gender, and immigrant perspectives of the United States. They ranged from Trevor Noah (Born a Crime), to Amy Tan (The Joy Luck Club), to focusing on stories about Latin baseball players achieving their American dream. Concurrently, in my Humanities 102 class I have made efforts to shine a light on culture with Native American perspectives on culture, not starting the story of the Americas with the arrival of the Europeans. The Romantic era composer Fanny Mendelssohn gets some equal air time with her brother, Felix, in that class as well!
From week one of a new semester I have found students jumping to read and write about stories that they found accessible to their life experience and the greater globalized world. More than this, these stories and pieces of art enlighten and open creative opportunities in the classroom to lead to greater student success. When more and more students return for additional classes in my subsequent semesters I know an impact has been made and a learning bond with art, literature, and popular culture has been formed.
If you have a student success story that you would like to share with the Reflection on Student Success Community of Practice please contact Steven Titus, English, at the following email for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org.