I love teaching, and today was a good teaching day! First, I did a reading of Canícula in Carmen Tafolla’s class and enjoyed talking to bilingual education students; then a couple of hours later, I taught my own Mexican American Literature class. Because it was the last class of the semester–the exam is next week–I gave a mini-lecture on Chicana/o Literature in the 21st century, wrapping up with examples of texts we read or discussed in class: Vicky Grise’s Blu for drama, spoken word poetry and the poetry of the CantoMundistas, like Eduardo Corral’s for the unit on Poetry, and in fiction and film—I mentioned Alex Rivera’s Sleep Dealers and the fiction of young writers like them. Exciting! I feel reassured that today’s students will go forth and change the world.
As part of the last class activity, I usually ask the students to fill out a grid with their short and long-term goals. As part of the give and take of our discussion, I mentioned the talk I will give tomorrow on the Camino and my own goals from a year ago. The students were asking me about the walk, and I became animated speaking about the pilgrimage and its origins. I referred them to this blog and perhaps some of them are reading this very post! I hope that they filled in the grid with some real physical and spiritual goals, such as the Camino was for me. Initially, it was not spiritual but more of an academic interest that drew me to it back in 1979; however, over time, and especially last year when I finally made the walk, it was not just academic or physical, but a true spiritual impulse that spurred me on.
I suppose that last year, as I began my research leave, I was too excited about el Camino to dwell on the fact that I would not be teaching in the spring. Although I was not teaching in a formal class, I did have my doctoral students to supervise, and several of them stayed in touch via e-mail even as I was walking last year. Now, they are deep in the writing of their dissertations and will graduate this year. In some way, my pilgrimage was for them too. I kept them in my heart and in my mind as I struggled up a hill, thinking of how metaphorically, writing a dissertation is like going up a hill, how the task appears insurmountable. When I reached the top, I looked back and with a deep sigh of thanksgiving and relief I marveled at where I’d been. In similar fashion, when I was writing my dissertation I felt it was an insurmountable task; when I was done, I looked back at all the odds agains me, and marvelled at my accomplishment. I want to make it as painfree as possible for the students.
In today’s class I distributed their last quiz. If I had had them do it in class, I know several would not have done well. But, I designed it as a take-home quiz so that the students will learn the material. I am not interested in flunking students or in making them feel as if they do not know anything; I am interested in their acquiring the knowledge, in evaluating the material we read, in thinking critically about our world and their place in it. Just like with the Camino, every day is a test. Walking requires resourcefulness, stamina, determination, and “smarts,” that is, the ability to survive with as little pain as possible. In some ways, students are immersed in a similar “test” of life, walking a path that requires sacrifice, resourcefulness, stamina, determination and “smarts” to survive in academia with as little pain as possible.
I am already imagining a course that will focus on the theme of pilgrimage. Perhaps the book that Joanne and I are co-editing will help me structure such a course. Definitely, El Camino will play a leading role in the class. I have not thought of taking students on the Camino as other faculty have done—Linda Davidson was one such person who did it for a long time; Enrique Madrid at the University of New Mexico also took a group of students on the pilgrimage. No. I don’t think that I would want to do it, but I will continue to encourage students who are drawn to it to make the walk and to grow and learn from it as I have. We are all students, after all, and the lessons are deep and life-transforming.