Teaching Relevance

Teaching Relevance August 31, 2013

The first week of classes has passed, and I find myself excited that my students are excited. And I think I figured out one major reason they’re excited – I spent a lot of time in the first day of both my classes emphasizing the relevance of what we’d be learning this semester.

In my folklore class, I made sure to talk about preconceptions about folklore, which people tend to associate with quaint, old-timey things. Of course I gave my students some updated definitions of folklore (folklore as expressive culture, as artistic communication in small groups, as creativity in everyday life), and in our discussion, they seemed intrigued by the fact that we’d be studying contemporary communities alongside the historical dimensions of folklore in the Midwest (which is the topic of the course).

In my gender studies class, I spoke about how our culture gives people crummy and/or incomplete models for understanding, communicating about, and analyzing relationships. You can blame Hollywood (I do, in part) or other areas of the media, or the patriarchy, or any number of the things, but the fact remains: we don’t learn good relationship communication skills. And part of the reason I’m teaching this class on monogamous and non-monogamous relationships is to fix that. Yes, we’ll study things that seem exotic by some counts (marriage in other cultures, same-sex relationships, polyamory and swinging, sex work, etc.) but the point is to start a dialogue about the diversity of human relationships as scholars … and maybe also get some take-home pointers about communication and consent and all that good stuff.

The other factor here, in my humble opinion, is that I was really excited on the first day of both classes too. I think that came through when I spoke to my students, and asked their opinions, and got them involved in discussions. I care about the topics I’m teaching, which must help in some fashion… but I think relevance is a major factor as well. I think a good teacher can and should make any topic relevant to the lives of her students. Some topics might require a greater stretch than others, sure, but relevance has been on my mind lately, and since I was pleased to find it a positive force in both my classes, I thought I would mention it here while also scrambling to come up with a good topic for my 2nd post of the month before the month trickles away from me.

Relevance. I dig it. More thoughts on this later, perhaps.

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