Today was the first day of my History 103 course and the beginning of a full semester of teaching traditional students. I have about 31 students, give or take two or three depending upon how things end up after the drop/add period. I have to admit, I was pretty nervous when I walked in and saw all of these shiny faces looking at me expectantly.
I began the class by introducing myself and telling the students where they can find me if they need me. It turns out, I’m just about everywhere on campus. I am the university archivist, so I try to make the rounds on campus, taking pictures and attending different events so I can create records for our history. I’m also a reference librarian, which means that I spend what time isn’t roaming campus, sitting at the reference desk answering questions (or fixing the printers). Lastly, I am now an instructor.
I wasn’t sure what to have the students call me. That sounds like an odd thing to ponder, but I don’t have my doctorate so I can’t have them call me “Dr. Dani” but I’m not their peer either, so “Dani” is out of the question. And “Mrs. Dani” is, well, uh, no. I also feel the same way about “Mrs. Vaughn-Tucker” and “Mrs. Tucker.” I ended up telling them to call me “Professor Dani.” Ok, it sounds sort of weird but I am so not a stuffy type of person but I felt that there needed to be some delineation between me as an instructor and them as students. Call it a respect thing.
After settling the name thing, I informed the students that my class as well as my office are “safe zones.” I want to encourage open and honest discussion without fear of taunting or belittling. At points in the class, we will be discussing slavery, the Ku Klux Klan and other uncomfortable topics. I want the students to know that nothing they say in class will be held against them.
Next I handed out the syllabus. I think it’s a fairly uncomplicated thing: 3 exams, 2 book tests and a lot of reading. However, the readings shouldn’t be all that bad because it’s only ten to twenty pages at a time. They have one text book, an atlas and a small book full of primary sources. The supplemental reading for the course is Clotele: or, The President’s Daughter by William Wells Brown. I chose this book because I think it perfectly captures the dichotomy of creating a nation based on the concept that all men are created equal while relying on slave labour to maintain a certain lifestyle. This book is loosely based on the allegations that Thomas Jefferson had taken Sally Hemings to be his paramor and had fathered many of her children who were living as slaves at Monticello. Another reason I chose this book is because it may well be one of the first novels published by an African American. Hopefully, this will lead to some interesting discussions.
Finally, I asked if anyone had any questions. Of course, no one had any…until class was over.
I look forward to an interesting semester and I hope that my students walk away with not only a basic knowledge of early American history but the realization that history impacts all that we do and the decisions that we make. I want them to be able to think critically and not only offer an argument but be prepared to defend it. Mostly, I want them to realize that history is not just a collection of stories from the past, but it is the foundation for their present and cornerstone for their future.