Community and Care in Learning/Teaching

“‘Education at its best—this profound human transaction called teaching and learning—is not just about getting information or getting a job. Education is about healing and wholeness. It is about empowerment, liberation, transcendence, about renewing the vitality of life. It is about finding and claiming ourselves and our place in the world.’ Since our place in the world is constantly changing, we must be constantly learning to be fully present in the now. If we are not fully engaged in the present we get stuck in the past and our capacity to learn is diminished.” – bell hooks, Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope

This semester, I have realized that teaching is not the opposite of learning but often just learning itself. Learning from students in weekly discussion, learning how to best communicate new material, learning to be okay with a silent (Zoom) room. Through a fellowship that I expected to strengthen my teaching skills, I’ve become a better learner as well.

I feel that my experience as a teaching fellow has changed the way that I look at student learning in and outside of the classroom in that now I feel like I have a broader understanding of what learning can look like and what the goals of learning can be. In a normative classroom, learning is understood as taking notes, answering questions, memorizing facts, writing essays, and taking exams. The end goal for this kind of learning is quantifiable—you get a number grade based on how well you checked off the requirements of an assignment. Working with Professor Bender and fellow TA CJ Dawson in this class, I’ve seen how fruitful it is to throw off this traditional idea of learning to encourage curiosity and questioning that is often smothered in a usual classroom setting.

Community building through teaching and learning has been an important takeaway from this experience as well. In a digital space, it can be hard to meaningfully engage with others and feel comfortable enough to share one’s thoughts, especially in dealing with difficult histories as we have in our course. At the beginning of the semester, CJ and I had our own breakout room with students during classtime. While we found our footing, there were often swaths of time left over after our planned discussion that we spent checking in with students and asking how they were. What felt like filling time became a vital part of teaching. The innocuous gained importance as the giving of our time communicated care and fostered community. These kinds of reflection on pedagogical strategies has been the most valuable aspect of the CUTF experience for me.

In regard to my post-graduation goals, I’ve also been thinking about the resonances between teaching and curation a lot this semester as well, creating a path for a visitor or student to work through with goals of thoughtfulness, education, joy, and perhaps even difficulty in mind. My work this semester has been useful in that curatorial regard, but it has also been useful in reflecting on my own role as a student– work that won’t end with my graduation in the spring but that will hopefully continue in a lifetime of study.

The first page of “exhibits from The American Water Museum” by Natalie Diaz, the focus of one of our recent weekly discussions. The poem is from her collection Postcolonial Love Poem (2020).

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