Tag Archives: don-seeman

I have been teaching long enough to know that "success" in teaching can be a very difficult thing to measure. Sometimes students come to me long after a course that I considered less than fully successful to tell me that, for them, it was a life-changing event. Do I measure success by that one student or by the others who seemed less than fully engaged? How much should I care about the consumerist metric of formal student evaluations, and how much should I care about my own view of the integrity and importance of the material I taught? There are no singular answers to these questions, and a lot also depends on the life-course of the teacher—is she pretenure or post? Still, all things considered, the most problematic course I ever taught was a 300-student "Introduction to Anthropology" that I taught in Hebrew before I was fluent. In retrospect, my cultural assumptions were all wrong: it upset me that students read the newspaper, chatted, or even spoke on the telephone while I lectured, though I later watched the same course taught by a successful senior faculty member who just spoke to the front row and ignored everyone else in the room. There was one student who told me that the course helped him decide to go on in the field, but it made me want to run in the other direction.

By contrast, the most successful course I ever taught on all counts has been a recurring graduate seminar in the "Ethnography of Religious Experience," which I give in Emory's Graduate Division of Religion. It allows me to teach methodology and research ethics along with books I truly love, and to induct students into an intellectual tradition that I care about. The best part of all is that students have taken what I taught and run with it in their own directions—two participants organized a whole conference on ethnography and theology last year. Isn't this why we all have gone into teaching?