This week, I had nerves like I haven’t had in years- back to school nerves! I’ll be teaching four classes at Doshisha University this semester. The course load is very similar to what I’m used to at home (the Fulbright representative I met in 2019 had said they were looking to expand their outreach to community college faculty for exactly this reason- we are very comfortable teaching a lot!). In some ways, Doshisha is very different from my usual campus- it’s an elite private university, as opposed to my public community college, so I’m teaching 2 graduate seminars as well as 2 introductory level undergraduate classes, which I don’t often get to do at home (but boy do I love when I can). Japanese universities in general, and Doshisha specifically, still tend towards the “professor lectures/high stakes midterm and final exams” model. Between Doshisha’s status as a private (expensive by Japanese standards) institution and location in Japan, a rich country with a very high standard of living, the parts of my teaching approach that evolved to attempt to address basic needs insecurity are not really necessary here.*
Yet, I am hopeful that the pedagogy I have been developing at CUNY will actually transfer quite well. For one, a lot of the changes I’ve made to my classes, inspired by a pedagogy of care, of starting from a position of trusting students, and of adopting more open educational practices are beneficial not just to students facing basic needs security, but also to students who have complex lives (other courses, caring responsibilities, stress, disabilities, etc.) and need to be able to personalize their learning. My Doshisha students might have been able to afford expensive American government textbooks, but they would have been blocked from easily using digital tools to translate that textbook (either because it was a paper book, or because of digital rights management from the publisher). The openly licensed materials I am using this semester are available for free, are customized to our course, and are easier to plug in to whatever tools students may find helpful (digital translators, screen readers, etc).
One of the great joys of teaching at CUNY is the diversity in my classes each semester- the varied perspectives and experiences of students make every class a new adventure. KCC has almost two hundred languages represented on campus among its student body, so I am very used to teaching students who are taking college classes in their second (or third, or fourth) language. At KCC, I keep a full CUNY Academic Commons site for each of my classes with all of the information for the course, readings, and slides available for students to review as and when they need to, and I’ve done the same for my Doshisha classes (special thanks to the CUNY Academic Commons for being the absolute best!!!) At KCC, I always incorporate in-class free-writing and small group discussions to build community and get students comfortable talking in class (or on their blogs), and I have been experimenting with Google Docs more and more as collaborative spaces to record our class thoughts. These techniques have already been helpful in getting my Doshisha students comfortable talking (and stopping me from talking so much!). Because most of the students are fluent in Japanese, I am encouraging them to do their in-class writing and small group discussions in whatever language (or combination of languages) that they are most comfortable in. I asked students in my introduction to American Government class to share everything they knew or had heard about American Government to a Google Doc, which we will revisit throughout the semester. I won’t share their responses because it’s not my work, but believe me when I say we’re going to have a great time.
I am a little afraid going forward that I might default to lecturing- as a high school theatre geek, and graduate of two decades of Catholic school, talking at a room comes very easily to me and it tends to be what I do if I get nervous. I’m going to try to plan some discreet activities for each class session to prevent that default from poking out too much.
But really, it was just SO good to get back in a classroom, live with students, and to feel safe doing it!!!** I am so excited for Week 2!!!
* There are likely more unhoused CUNY students (on the 2018 CUNY #RealCollege Survey, 3% of respondents self-identified as homeless) than there are unhoused people in all of Japan (2020’s count was 3,992).
** There is no way I would feel safe about teaching in Brooklyn this semester and then returning to my still-too-young-to-be-vaccinated children, but the safety precautions and infection numbers here are exponentially better.