Lori Cohen – teacher of humanities, literature, writing, religion and philosophy – discusses how professional development has informed and continues to enhance her classes past, present and future. In particular, she speaks to her recent, NEH grant-funded course and the role it has played in shaping her upcoming new class at The Bay School.
This past summer I received a grant by the National Endowment for the Humanities to take a course at Western Washington University on the following topic: Four Classics of Native American Literature. We spent five weeks reading breakthrough novels of the 20th Century, discussing the history and policy that has shaped our understanding of Native peoples — and how these understandings have an impact on the literature. We also examined the proliferation of 21st Century Native authors who are pushing the envelope in new literacies.
This work is instructive in helping me design a Native American Literature class at Bay this coming spring. As I wrote in my NEH application essay: “My best courses and professional development opportunities have come when I have become the student and when my learning occurs from the inside out. When I designed my Advanced Composition course, I wrote all the assignments before I taught them; when I taught Historical Fiction, I took a week-long intensive course on reading and writing within this genre; I consulted my college notebooks and relevant literary criticism when designing African American Women’s Literature; and now, I have the opportunity to spend five weeks of my summer reading four novels, a wealth of source material and immersing myself in a field that will give me the tools to design a meaningful learning experience for my students.”
This course was invaluable in helping me be a better teacher through understanding Native literature through a student’s perspective. Additionally, I have a rich array of source material to draw upon as I design the course.
Though the Native American Literature syllabus has not yet been finalized, Lori’s aim is for her students to “come to a deeper and more nuanced awareness of how Native storytellers today are still very much invested in their communities, their traditional cultures and the narratives that carry these values along from one generation to the next.” She hints that students can expect to study authors like Sherman Alexie, Leslie Marmon-Silko and Luci Tapahonso as well as Native poetry, films and primary sources.