This year we’re introducing some changes to the blog. We have invited five recent University of Chicago Divinity School alumni to engage with this year’s Craft of Teaching programming and contribute their insights from the experience of being a new faculty member. We’re excited to roll out this initiative by introducing a new member of the alumni blogger cohort each day this week.
Batting cleanup this week is Spencer Dew (2009), Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Centenary College of Louisiana.
CoT-What was your area of focus and year of graduation at the Divinity School?
SD-I graduated in 2009 with a focus in Religion and Literature.
CoT –What was your most memorable teaching experience while at the Divinity School? Since moving on?
SD-The same week I got my Div School degree I started teaching my first course for working cops through Saint Xavier University’s Chicago Police Department BA program. That first evening, showing up at the Academy as cadets were filing out, walking into a room decked out in maps coded by gang activity—it remains memorable most in terms of defying my expectations of grad school or its results, of being, frankly, a very different world from the book-lined confines of Professor Fishbane’s office. As for memorable experiences since that week: I’ve been lucky to work with many, many remarkable students, but it is still, always, my students from the Chicago Police Department who have taught me the most, pushed me the most in terms of intentional pedagogy and tight course design.
CoT–What do you most wish you had learned about teaching while you were still a doctoral student? (and/or) What surprised you the most as a new faculty member?
SD-If I could go back to graduate school now, bringing to that experience—that opportunity—the sort of work schedule and focus I have now, as well as the patience that teaching has helped hone in me and, honestly, the hunger for intellectual encounter that living four years in north Louisiana has left me with… Well, everything would be different. I’m not sure that answers your question, but ultimately what most surprises me and continues to surprise me is that so many schools aren’t more like UChicago, and by this I mean not in terms of resources or famous names or storied history but on a much more basic level: I’m shocked, every day, that the idea of the academy as an ongoing process, the sense that we’re all in this, as professors, to continue to grow, learn, be challenged, think new and difficult things, this is not shared universally among my colleagues. In graduate school it’s easy to take for granted the remarkable situation in which one finds oneself, especially at UChicago. When you leave graduate school, depending on where you move next, you may well have to work to replicate that, both for yourself and your institutions, for your students and your colleagues and for members of the broader community.
CoT–Briefly describe a course you’ve never taught but would like to.
SD-A class specifically exploring issues of religion and the spatial, about place and orientation as well as attention to religious architecture and the ways ritual experience is shaped by and as location – that could be interesting. Imagined spaces such as the nostalgically imagined homeland, individual (if not private) spaces such as the chamber of the anchoress, created spaces such as decorated lorries, communal spaces such as festivals, utopian and dystopian spaces… One could cover a lot of ground (so to pun) in terms of introducing students to religion, religions, and the self-reflexive study thereof, via a course like this.
CoT–You’ve been bitten by a radioactive _____ and your new superpower of _____ has instantly made you a more effective teacher.
SD-Maybe one of those dangerous clocks some folks seem so terrified of these days. The superpower most needed for my teaching context is time, pure and simple: between multiple class commitments (prep, sessions, grading, meetings), committee and service work, and research (which often gets short shrift in this arrangement), there’s always the need for more time. And that well-worn triad of things-that-count-toward-tenure doesn’t, of course, include anything like family, personal life, sleep.