Today is the start of another year for me–an academic year, that is.
It is an oddity and privilege but the pace of my life has been set by academic calendars for so long it’s now my default position. It’s how I keep my time. I’m a creature of educational institutions, after all. I went straight from kindergarten to 12th grade to college (4 years) to grad school (8 years) to my first (3.5 years) and second (8.5 years) tenure-track jobs. From that perspective, not counting the 2 semesters I was on sabbatical, this is the start of my 73rd semester in education. Put another way, it’s the start of my 37th year of life in educational institutions.
This year I get to teach another semester of my favorite class–Chicana/o~Latina/o Histories. A class that serves as an introduction to Chicano/Latino history, Chicano/Latino Studies, historical inquiry, and being a person of color in college, it’s my lifeblood in so many ways. I’m never more connected to the student I was than when I am teaching this class. It feels like a new year when I do.
I also get to teach one of Pomona College’s first-year seminars this fall. I called mine Race Rebels, and I’m looking forward to it immensely. At a small college like mine, students usually choose my courses after knowing me or hearing a lot about me from others who do. These seminars are unique for the fact that the students haven’t really chosen me as much as having been assigned. That’s a welcome difference, a chance for me to sit with them where we all are equally unknown to each other.
I often say that teaching is my vocation. I still think that and, maybe more importantly, I feel it. But, like any good and meaningful commitment in life, teaching has become an evolving process for me. For me, it’s been about intentional recommitment, constant discovery, and continual learning.
That’s especially true for me right now, as I find myself searching for ways to make what we do in the classroom pertinent to the lives we lead when we leave them. It leaves me feeling simultaneously like my job has never been more needed and, yet, never more irrelevant.
The tension between those two sides isn’t a debate as much as its a window into the struggle of the job. It’s a good struggle. A worthy struggle. A struggle that’s made so much easier by the privilege of getting to work with such smart, passionate, and creative young minds.
So here’s to another year!
Lizzie Douglas (June 3, 1897 – August 3, 1973)–better known as “Memphis Minnie”–was raised in the South. Born in Louisiana, her family moved to Mississippi and then Shelby County, Tennessee, all before the young Lizzie had reached her teen years. At 13, she ran away to Memphis, where she became a street performer. At various times she earned money as a circus act (she toured with the Ringling Brothers Circus), a musician, and a prostitute.
In her early 30s, she and her husband Kansas Joy McCoy were discovered, beginning her professional recording career. A few years later she settled in Chicago, where her experimental, hybrid style took root.
Known for songs like “Bumble Bee” and “Me and My Chauffeur Blues,” Minnie was one of the first woman singer/guitarists to ever reach fame. She was an influential figure, and commanded a unique style of blues.
“Kissing in the Dark” (1953) is one of Minnie’s later releases, a thinly-veiled song about sexually transmitted diseases.