Thursday, November 29, 2007

Warm Fuzzy teaching moments

So, one wouldn't think, after my post of a couple of days ago, that I would write something like this. But after having taken a couple of days break from grading (too much other stuff to do) I'm back at it, and this time getting warm fuzzies. What is exciting (now that I've gotten past the initial bad papers--I'm sure there are more to come) is to see students learning and writing about things that interest them. We gave them a variety of paper topics and the option to do what they are interested in rather than the "formula" paper, and, although I'm nervous about grading our "creative options" (I've set those aside for last), it's such a joy to read those few stellar papers that are almost perfect: well written, well-researched, intelligently thought out, engaging.... I just wrote on one paper, "I've been reading dozens of papers tonight, and it's so pleasurable to come across a paper that I not only enjoy reading but from which I learn something. You write very well..." On another (a student I know was just accepted into grad school), I wrote "You already sound like a graduate student!"

This is why we teach, I suppose, for those brief moments of joy when we see students synthesizing and connecting with what they are learning. You see all those sources in their works cited, and you think, "They know this now." This is now a part of their knowledge. Perhaps they will bring up the points they've cited in this paper in conversation with family and friends in related conversations.... And in the exceptional papers, you think "I just learned something new." And that is exciting.

I also have students post a comment or question on the readings or lectures to an email listserve once a week, and, despite a few mid-semester evaluation grumbles (most like it; a few don't), it always gets progressively better throughout the semester. I love seeing them think through things and using the tools they've learned to better analyze what they are reading and hearing.

So, even though I have about 50 more papers to grade and even though I'm stressed out of my mind because my prelims dates have been set for January 16 and 18 (sooner than I was planning--I'm not at all ready), I'm happy, sitting here at my kitchen table with papers all around me--sorted into various grades. I'm happy because I have 70+ students, who I really like even if I do still forget their names sometimes, most of whom are smart and interested in Africa. And if some of them still use the word "tribe" and "native," well, hopefully they'll remember my comments on their papers.... WWWD.


readership said...

i'm not sure if you are aware but rahama abdul-majid's book "mace mutum" should be out next week.. thought you'd find this interesting..

Talatu-Carmen said...


thank you. I'll look forward to getting a copy of it and reading it when I return to Kano next year!

...that is if I'm still alive after my prelims...


Zahratique said...

awwww! this is nice! Sometimes, I'm tempted to become a teacher. I come so close and then change my mind....Sunds like a really rewarding career.

Talatu-Carmen said...


LOL. it's not always that fun, but it has its rewarding moments, and those moments are what make it worth it. {-;


Charity said...

So glad to hear that the world is starting to realize what Africa is! Thank you so much for taking up this cause.

When I talk with people, it's so hard to explain what Nigeria was like. The mixture of wonderful variety, spice and color, and then the awful reality of third world, all mixed into Nigeria. At once I loved it, hated it, endure it, and thrived there. It is simply so different that many people can not wrap their minds around it. People stumble when I say there were 500-700 different languages in Nigeria alone, each representing different ethnic/cultural groups. When I attempt to describe Igbo democracy people look at me as if I've grown a second eye. A cutlure that has no leader?? Well then who is in charge?

Thank you so much for taking up such an amazing challenge. Thank you for forcing these young people to realize Africa is not one unit, but so many different people with such interesting stories to tell. Thank you.

readership said... wishes for your prelims.

uknaija said...

Yes, teaching does have its rewards

Murnablogs: said...

I followed your link to the article, "How to Write About Africa." What an excellent piece of satire!

I have some personal experiences to relate.

The other day, in my environmental ethics class , one of my classmates was trying to make a case for the universality of ethical norms, and he conluded by saying, "Even Africans that live in the "bush" ...!"

A couple of days later, in the same class, the instructor was trying to explain a point an essayist made about the unsustainability of some environments in North Africa (because they are desert-prone), and he started by alluding to the poverty in Sub-saharan Africa. I had to give him a brief lesson on the geography of Africa and also reminded him that the article neither implicitly nor explicitly said anything about poverty, rather, its focus was on natural sustainability. I was glad he agreed with me and apologized for the tangent.

The pages of one my Political Science texts (on world politics) are covered with annotations whereever disparaging references are made about Africa and Africans.

Next time anyone makes such a remark again, I would know how to answer: "What Would Wainaina Do?" Even better, I will give my professors a copy of the article to read.

Murna Gilbert

Talatu-Carmen said...


Glad you found the essay useful! And glad to hear that you are challenging all of those misconceptions you are coming across in classes!

Good luck!