Reflections on taking a summer course–i.e., NEH Summer Institute called “A Reverence for Words: Understanding Muslim Cultures through Poetry and Song.”
I hope to write a series of reflections on my work for this course. Why? Because my job is to guide students who find themselves in my “classroom”–as well as in a number of others. When teachers remind themselves–first hand–of what it feels like to be a student in a formal course, they are better equipped to help their charges with a similar experience.
First of all, I need to ask “How did I get here?” How did I end up in this course? In this particular case, a colleague identified the NEH summer opportunities. After reviewing the options, I applied to the one that best fit my current interests and personal needs. Once I was accepted, the coordinators–call them teachers–began sending course materials.
Immediately, we see the difference between this experience and that of most high school students. I chose this course from a rich variety of options. I explained to the coordinators and myself the source of my interest. In short, I am ready to learn this material and understand why. Most teenagers in traditional formal settings–call them schools–discover the curriculum when handed the course syllabus.
The accompanying chart, called “Age Gap,” reminds me of the age difference between me and my students. The red line (S) shows the age of my students over the years of my career, while the black line (T) shows my age. Lo and behold, I grow older as they stay put. As the gap enlarges so does my responsibility to mind the difference. In terms of my NEH course this summer, aside from practical matters like single summer course vs. regular academic year high school schedules, I have years of interest in poetry. I have taught Humanities courses with Muslim units in them. I chose this summer course because it represents my personal and professional history and affinities.
Underpinning these reflections on being a student is the difference in age and experience between me and my students. It’s as if the reflections constitute a scene from a stage play being performed behind a scrim on which is projected the “Age gap.” We can only see the action by looking through this image of the graph.