This morning I have been considering the challenges of teaching. Now, as I look out my window I can see that most of the snow is gone from our front yard. Hopefully this means early spring flowers will soon appear on our south-facing neighbors’ lawns. Given our house is north facing, our flowers usually appear a couple of weeks later. Teaching so often reminds me of spring’s uncertainty: we do not know when, or even if, our best efforts will eventually flower in the lives of our students.
I have spent most of my life teaching. I have taught undergraduate and graduate students, friends, and others who have asked. I have educated clients and their families, and of course my own children. I have taught academic courses, the arts, and traditional ways of knowledge about life and the world. It used to be that I saw all of these as distinct disciplines, but those days are long gone.
When I was in art school at university I was discouraged from crossing disciplines. My teachers saw writing and painting as mutually exclusive, and theater was completely outside the preview of the visual arts. Even though the divisions between the arts have long since broken down, I have struggled throughout my life to rid myself of the nagging voices of those teachers, to make room for the multivalent forms of storytelling that demand my attention.
Not surprisingly, I have always gravitated to multimodal, interdisciplinary forms of teaching. Border crossings in academia are often viewed as suspect, as somehow less demanding and rigorous than the study of clearly defined disciplines. Yet my experience has been that such expeditions are both crucial for understanding the human experience, and immensely demanding of the student. After all, we, and the rest of Creation, are unimaginably complex; this renders one-dimensional models of our lives both false and unsatisfying. Thus I find myself continuing to seek maps that allow some feel for the actual terrain they are describing: messy, porous, thickly described, complexly storied descriptions of life and the living world.
I am told this search is a preoccupation of many Native academics, an almost genetically driven, cultural imperative. Of course, this approach to teaching and research is not uniquely Native, although I imagine the ever-present threat of erasure gives our efforts great impetus. Perhaps this is even more true for me, a person neither settled firmly into tribal identity nor thoroughly assimilated. I seem to live in a world where I fit in nowhere, straddling and crossing innumerable boundaries. I have come to see this fate as both a hardship and a blessing, and opportunity to develop empathy and, hopefully, rich vision.
Do you live and teach across borders? How do you navigate this rich and perilous territory? Where do you feel at home? I hope you’ll share your learning with us.