I am a Human Professor

While robotic technology is astounding these days, most robots are still programmed and continue to lack their own emotions and spontaneity. I entered into teaching as a robot.

I lacked emotions.

One of the first courses I ever taught was an online, undergraduate statistics course with over 200 students at the R1 (research intensive) university where I received my PhD. It was the recession and the President of the university at that time was a businessman aiming to compete with online universities. I was told that I would receive a teaching assistant for every 50 students in the course. The problem was that my teaching assistants did not know anything about statistics nor was I prepared properly to teach. At that time I had not ever had a course on pedagogy. Needless to say, I failed the students. Literally about 50% failed the course. Beyond the issue of class size, I had very little interaction with students. I prepared video lectures and online quizzes with no engagement.  For all the students knew, I was a robot.

My first tenure-track position was in a synchronous, distance education Masters of Social Work program at University of Hawaii, Manoa in which I taught live classes to students living on different islands. One of the students got to meet me in-person and chat with me about my upbringing in Hilo, a small town in Hawaii. In the next class, she asked if she could make an announcement. She told all of the students that even though I looked haole [a white person or outsider], I was Hawaiian at heart. She added that I had attended a Hawaiian Homelands elementary school in Hilo when I was a child. This student would not have known anything about my upbringing if she had not asked. I had the students in that course for a two-semester research methods course. I received the highest teaching evaluations in that course that I had ever received.

It wasn’t until teaching at CSUCI that I began to realize the effects of revealing a bit more about myself to students. I was a brand new mom of a three-month old baby my first semester here. I was stumbling into returning to work as a breastfeeding mom. I did not receive keys to my office where I planned to pump and store my milk, so I carried my breast-pump and cooler with me to my classes. While we discussed the benefits of diet during pregnancy and breastfeeding in a nutrition course, I found the nerve to be vulnerable and show the students everything I had to lug around with me in order to be a breastfeeding, working mom. I found that my students remembered these tiny snip bits of personal information. One of my students soon came to my office hours to ask “how do you have a career and family?” She expressed that she was Mexican American and felt pressure to start a family but that she wanted her Masters degree. Years later I still mentor her, helped her to get a job a local non-profit, and have written a recommendation letter for her to attend nursing school.

In addition, while taking the Blended Learning Preparation Program at CI, I saw Assistant Professor of Dance Heather Castillo’s “check in” video for an online class in which she was home getting her hair bleached with her two little boys in the background. I thought about how much I would have liked to see my professors as humans too.

I lacked spontaneity.

I have always used textbooks and designed my courses around those books. After becoming an ambassador for openCI, the CSUCI initiative to reduce course material and textbook costs for students, I reflected on my own personal challenges to pay for textbooks and remembered all of the times that my students asked me for extensions to readings because they had not been able to pay for the textbook yet. I have redesigned five courses from using a textbook to only using no-cost course materials. I believe that it is what our students need in order to prioritize education instead of working more so they can afford their textbooks. This fall I emailed my students the syllabi and announced that we will be using only no-cost course materials. One student wrote back: “praise your heart for making this no-cost.” While redesigning these courses, I have realized how hyper-focused I was on using all of the textbook chapters. I find that I am now focused on ensuring that I am covering the learning objectives for the specific course. I have vowed to only use no-cost course materials and am currently a part of a venture to make Health Science the third Z-major at CSUCI.

This semester I started our faculty meeting and my courses with a 1-minute video of pictures from a conference and family trip I took to Hawaii. I not only reflected on the research I presented and Hawaiian culture but also included fun things I did with my family. I believe that this 1-minute video showed me in my human element and set a tone of vulnerability. I believe that if we are just a little bit vulnerable, our students will be more likely to ask those questions that they otherwise would not ask.

I urge you to join me in becoming a human professor.

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