Teaching Reflections

A week back, I love it, and I am exhausted.

September 21, 2021

Yep, it’s me. You’re probably wondering how I ended up in this situation…I had a crazy dream when I returned from serving in the Army to become a college professor. Back then, I so innocently thought it was show up teach for about nine to twelve hours week, collect a full-time salary, and go home. Oh, how young and foolhardy I was—but I am doing what I dreamt of so very long ago.

I have been a college prof of Native American or Indigenous Studies for over twenty years now. I have taught courses at the University of Buffalo (where I earned an MA in 2000 and a Ph.D. in 2007), SUNY Brockport (where I graduated with a BS in Philosophy in 1998), SUNY Oswego for nearly all my seventeen years, with a visiting Native American Fellow at Wells College in the mix too. I am now at the University of Toronto, having just started my third year.

I have had some great experiences and students over my teaching career. I have had some hard and unsettling situations to deal with—but I did, and my coursework and I became better for enduring those circumstances. I can admit now in many ways I coasted at Oswego—because in fact, I was the only Native American or Indigenous faculty there for most of my seventeen years. That is not to say I was the only Native person working on campus—but the only faculty member. Well, at least until I became Director of the NAS unit housed in anthropology. I immediately brought on two Indigenous adjuncts. Both successfully moved on to better positions; eventually as I did too.

But I am not writing this to retell my Oswego past—I am writing about how excited I am to teach at Toronto, after a pandemic, and finally be returning to in person teaching.

Like most of the world, in 2020, we all went to remote teaching. I was among some last fall who braved the hybrid teaching in our quick adaptation to a global pandemic. As I kept reassuring my students and TAs (my teaching team who did awesome!) that we’d navigate it all together as a community of learners. I asked that they be patient with us, extend us grace, and we would of course reciprocate that same patience and grace.

As quickly as we started the hybrid teaching, we were then returned to remote instruction only due to the pandemic. We have all learned about software such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Bb Collaborates to strike some form of balance and normalcy in teaching and learning. But it was exhausting in prep and to endure as learners and teachers. We were successful in my estimation—even if it was an unsettling year. But it was rough all the way around—and I remain so very proud of my TAs, my students, and my colleagues.

As the vaccine rolled out and with so many are vaccinated, we are set to return to an actual classroom next week. The policies this year are that students, faculty, librarians, and staff return fully vaccinated or agree to monitoring for the variants of Covid. And we all must mask up indoors-even if fully vaccinated. But, next week, I return to an actual classroom. I am so excited!

There are elements of what many collectively call Covid-teaching that will remain a staple of my classroom and lectures. My teaching team and I bulked up my INS 201 course this summer—making it worthy of this institution. I have continued to tweak my courses, my assignments, and am truly looking forward to my working with my students, TAs, and my courses this year. I still have some work to do—but it is coming together in a way that it should be fun to experience in a slow march towards a normalcy again.

I chose tonight to write this entry, because I completed my second week of remote teaching for my INS course. And I have one more remote session for my RLG course tomorrow. I have long liked these moments of quiet contemplations on the cusp of change. It causes me to deeply reflect on where we have been and yet quietly be hopeful about where we are going too. If this last year as taught me anything, together we can accomplish anything by simply being patient and above all kind. For we never know what someone else is enduring at any given moment.

My go-to metaphor all last year (2020-2021) was that we are building the plane as we are actually flying it (I saw it somewhere on social media-but it worked). And there were deep lessons learned on so many levels—institutionally, personally, and communally. I hope we can continue to practice the same amount of patience, grace, and most importantly kindness to each other as life slowly resumes a more normal trajectory.

What is your hope for the next school year for yourself, your children, and others?




Kevin J. White
Toronto, CA