While preparing the tenure dossier, I re-read most of the blog, something that was immensely helpful to articulate my thoughts. I started writing for those reasons: to think out loud questions of pedagogy and syllabus design. I was motivated by what I found was the awfulness of textbooks to teach Latin American civilization courses, and the superficiality (to put it mildly) of most syllabus for that kind of courses I found online.
It is not a coincidence that my fourth post was titled: How to write a non-canonical contemporary Latin American civilization syllabus. I had decided to take the plunge: ditch the textbook and design a syllabus focusing on some specific issues, instead of a generalist survey course. It was risky at many levels. Unless I had a clear picture in my mind of what the goals of the course were, the course could become a confusing mess. I was giving my students material that in some cases could be to difficult for some of them. I was also including material in English, a big no-no for certain simple minded language pedagogy specialists. All of this without tenure, working at an institution where bad students evaluations can sink you.
Reading back some early posts, you can see that while I didn't know what my goals for the blog were very clearly, I was: a) articulating all the different ideas in my head, b) looking for a community of peers with whom to exchange practical ideas, and c) looking for validation. Regarding this last point, while there is plenty written regarding language pedagogy, very little has been written, from a pedagogical point of view, about this 300-level "content" courses that are a staple of most language majors in the US.* When I say I was looking for validation, I refer to two things: First, I was looking for somebody to engage with my ideas about how to teach such a course, offer suggestions, comment on the material I was using, etc. Second, I was trying to validate what I have felt from day one: that while both teaching and research are important to me, teaching is what I love doing more than anything else. And there is nothing wrong with that. I am not less than research-oriented people: not less serious, not less smart, not less important. And my scholarly production, while not that of an R1 professor in terms of quantity, is nonetheless of high quality. And sustained.
Did I achieve my goals? Beyond my wildest dreams. My "non-canonical" courses are really appreciated by my students, even if I might never mention Frida Kahlo or Fidel Castro in a Contemporary Latin American civilization course. Readers have given me great ideas both in the blog or by privately by mail. I feel like I have helped other readers (by the way, if you are reading this and would like suggestions, feel free to email me in private). I have no problem sharing the latest incarnation of each of my syllabus). As for the last point, I no longer need that validation. I am very self confident regarding my abilities in the classroom, and I know perfectly well my worth in the profession, both in the classroom and as a scholar.
The question, then, is what come next? If I feel like I have achieved the reason why I started the blog, what will I write about? That's been going through my head a lot lately. As usual, this post is already too long, so stay tuned for part 3...
*As a matter of fact, the typical division between language and content courses is in itself deeply problematic. For completely different reasons, I've been reading Claire Kramsch and similar scholars lately, and it's been enlightening.