Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Teaching Is a Trip

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Teaching Is a Trip

Article excerpt

I'm leaving my house with a rolling suitcase and a passport. I look as though I'm off on a Roman holiday, but the suitcase actually holds a surplus of books and the passport is for identification in a human resources office. I've just signed up to teach a writing class for freshman at the local university, and I have no idea what I'm getting myself into.

My first days teaching are nerve-wracking, but my students are an amiable bunch as we introduce ourselves. During our fourth meeting, I find myself trying to explain to them the difference between empathy and sympathy. I hope they hear me and that I don't sound like the droning teacher in Charlie Brown comic strips.

"Pull out a sheet of paper, and write about an uncomfortable situation where you were in the minority," I instruct. This is a writing exercise, but it is also my lesson plan for inciting understanding.

"Maybe you were in the minority because of your morals, your race, your ability or inability to speak a language or understand the cultural norms of a place," I continue.

They pause for a moment.

"Maybe," I add, "you were a hunter in a room full of vegetarians or vice versa." I shiver at the thought with comedic emphasis. At this, they laugh. I notice that a camouflage-clad student, who has revealed in earlier writings that he has a gun manufacturer's name tattooed on his back, laughs a little harder than the rest. He'll write about how he was once the only supporter of a war in a room full of student peace activists.

Soon, the laughter dies down, and my students hunch over their desks, except Javier. He smiles in his charming way, and leans his chair back so that he can make eye contact.

"Could you explain again?" he asks shyly.

"Write about a specific incident when you felt uncomfortable because you felt you were different, an outsider."

He pops the buttons of his down jacket and lets it fall behind him before conceding. …

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