It's the last day of October! Generally, we like to produce about two blog posts per month. And suddenly I find myself with only a few hours left to write something. I don't know where the time went! Well, I do, actually. October is always a busy month for me as it's the start of our academic year, so I've been busy prepping classes. Also, Regine and I will both be at the 24th annual Haitian Studies Association conference in New York in a couple of weeks. There are so many fantastic panels and presentations lined up, I am sure I will be frustrated by everything I'll be forced to miss. In addition to the roundtable where we'll be talking about this here blog, I'll be presenting on my experience as a teacher in Haiti. That paper is currently a work in progress. I thought I'd give you all a preview. Feel free to weigh in and help me shape my paper!
The title of my talk is A Haitian Reflects on Teaching Haitian Literature in Haiti. My co-panelists, Kate Ramsey and Alyssa Sepinwall, will be talking about their experiences teaching about Haiti in other communities.
I was a double major in college: French and English. I love books-- love reading them, love talking about them. I just couldn't decide which literary tradition to specialize in. Then I spent a semester in Paris and took a course with Jacques Chevrier on Francophone African literature. When I returned to Baltimore, I did an independant study on Haitian literature. It became obvious that that was what I wanted to spend my time on: reading and studying Haitian literature. But at that time, I honestly had no idea where I'd be researching and teaching Haitian literature.
Now that I've been teaching at the Ecole Normale Supérieure of Haiti's State University for about a decade while also participating in conferences and projects on Haitian literature elsewhere around the world, it is clear to me that context has a huge impact on what happens in the classroom, even if the content is ostensibly the same.
So, here are a few particularities of teaching Haitian literature in Haiti that I plan to highlight in my talk. And I know some of them are pretty obvious:
- There is no need for me to introduce or contextualize Haiti at the start of each semester. Big relief there!
- I teach texts written in French as well as texts written in Creole. I'm not sure that'd be possible if I worked in a French department, but I'm housed in Modern Letters.
- My students have usually heard of all of the authors I teach. They've met some of them and even had them as teachers. The books and authors are real to them in a way they might not be to other students.
Of course, some particularities are not positive ones:
- The physical learning environment is pretty atrocious -- open classrooms with no doors, broken chairs and no sound insulation. In fact, the ENS is yet again involved in a campaign to get authorities to improve our working conditions.
- I have to be creative in terms of syllabus building, since access to the library is often iffy and a lot of the books I'd like to teach are not affordable. We use a lot of photocopies.
- Lack of diversity. We don't usually have the benefit of a wide range of perspectives in the classroom. We tend to come at the text from similar places, although my job as teacher is to help students consider other viewpoints.
I hope these seem like good starting points for my paper. Any ideas on what I should add? What have been some of your experiences teaching or learning about Haiti?