While Parker Palmer’s The Courage to Teach was an assigned reading for another class of mine, I still find it to be a good reminder of why we’re all doing what we’re doing. Especially towards the end of the semester, experiencing some burnout, I really needed the reminder. This is the time where the undergraduate students have sent about a million emails about their grades and how everything will be determined. And although it makes me want to scream, I’m sympathetic towards them (in some ways) as I don’t think I’ve received a single grade in any of my graduate courses. Parker Palmer always gives us a good reminder that we’re all human and that feelings matter. Why we try to tuck them away in academia is still puzzling and yet we’re so conditioned to do it. I love the description in Parker Palmer’s A New Professional: The Aims of Education Revisited – “in but not of” the academic world (or world in general). Personally, I’ve always heard this phrase used from a religious standpoint but feel that it is very fitting in this context as well.
I met with the professor I co-teach with this past week and this week’s readings/videos, along with the course in general, helped to guide some of the conversation that took place. Since I’ll be teaching 50% of the course next semester, I feel that I have a lot more say-so this time around. I offered my opinion that I thought the students needed to be encouraged to engage themselves more rather than answering multiple choice questions that come straight from the textbook – cue the lecture by night, homework by day comment from “What is School For?”. We both agreed that grading 120 short answer questions on a regular basis just wasn’t feasible so we took some time to brainstorm other options.
Our class conversations and this week’s readings/videos have helped me to shift my thinking about the purpose of my class. As an entry-level course, what do we want them to know? What do we want them to be able to do? This is a question I’ve held close to me the entire semester. I think it is most important for students to realize by way of this class that most things in the food world are not black and white. It is essential that students are able to see both sides of an argument and to be able to acknowledge (and be sympathetic to) opinions that to not align with their own. This could mean incorporating debates, small group discussions, opinion papers, etc. into the course. I also want this class to serve as a means of general interest in Food Science. There are numerous topics related to food that are equally controversial as interesting (GMOs, plant based meat products, organic versus conventional farming). Plus, food is part of everyone’s daily life so each person has to make food choices on a regular basis. This may mean changing some of the current course curriculum. Right now a textbook defines which topics we will be focusing on each week. The textbook isn’t bad, but it does leave out more current topics that are probably more relatable to this generation of students. Lastly, I want this course to serve as a means of connection. While we did have a few graduates students come in to talk about their research this semester, I would like students to be introduced to more opportunities outside of the classroom. I’m thinking this could be attendance to defenses or research seminars within the Food Science department. Attendance at Food Science Club meetings could also fill this void. Most importantly, I want the students in the classroom to get to know one another better. Right now there is little interaction between them all. I’m realizing more and more that learning communities are beneficial for all; that getting to know peers both inside and outside of your own major is invaluable on both a personal and academic level.