FAQ 1: What do you teach, what do you assign, and can I see your syllabus?

I am writing these FAQs, because folks are always requesting things from me, and chances are, my answers are already somewhere on my website. So first up:

FAQ 1: What do you teach, what do you assign, and can I see your syllabus?

Some of you may know I teach Pinay Literature, various Filipino and Asian American Literature courses, and occasionally, MFA Poetry Workshop. I sometimes teach community writing workshops, but very rarely, since I don’t have a lot of extra time.

I am an adjunct professor, and I work 0.8 FTE in the working world — specifically, I work as an analyst in a Quality Improvement Department in a large-ish, urban public health agency. So, I don’t have the luxury of sitting for hours in a quiet, professorial office to read, or craft lectures, or wax poetic with my students, or grade. Of course, as an adjunct professor, I also do not sit on university committees, nor do I participate in much masters thesis advising. This is a very deliberate choice I have made. I decided to stop applying for tenure track professor positions a long time ago. I have prioritized my own life (yes indeed!), my writing career, and my non-academic work, over an academic career.

Still, I’ve been proactive and fortunate to gain the confidence of my department chairpersons to develop curricula, and to take ownership of those courses I propose. It’s because of that confidence that I was able to get this gem of a course, Pinay Literature, fulfilling university core requirements for Literature and Cultural Diversity, into the world.

I used to share my syllabi quite freely, but then I have come to realize, that’s free labor to demand unduly, from the least protected, most marginalized, most underpaid university faculty members. Curriculum development is hard work; not only does it require a lot of research, it requires seaming together a lot of material into a cohesive body that respects time and human limitations. How many books can one read and discuss in 15 weeks? What texts are available? What texts are cost prohibitive? What can you really hope to accomplish in a three-hour lecture? How much can a human body take in a three-hour lecture? What do you entrust to lower division students, especially first year college students? What do you entrust to upper division students when you have 50 of them and no assistance and support?

In terms of what texts to adopt, that also requires research, and an ability to discern and decide what is “teachable.” I know this raises folks’ hackles. I get mad side eye, mad tsismis, and accusations of elitism and cliquishness, when I don’t teach some works, and/or some people’s works. My only response is that when you teach your classes, you can choose the books you want to teach.

Some of the most consistent successes with books that I have had in Filipino/a and Asian American Literature classes:

  • Lynda Barry, One! Hundred! Demons!
  • Jason Bayani, Amulet.
  • M. Evelina Galang, One Tribe. 
  • Erin Entrada Kelly, Land of Forgotten Girls.
  • R. Zamora Linmark, Leche.
  • Elynia S. Mabanglo, Invitation of the Imperialist.
  • Sarith Peou, Corpse Watching.
  • Pati Navalta Poblete, The Oracles.
  • Bushra Rehman, Corona.
  • Lysley Tenorio, Monstress.
  • Gene Luen Yang, American Born Chinese.

Of my own works, I think the best success I have had is with For the City That Nearly Broke Me. This semester will be my first time teaching To Love as Aswang. So we will see how that goes.

Carlos Bulosan’s America is in the Heart, and Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters, I teach, because of their importance to the field of Filipino American Literature, and my students struggle with these for various reasons.

One of my newest assignments is the epistolary or lyrical essay. They choose either epistolary or lyrical essay, and then which assigned text, author, artist, and/or character to whom they would like to respond. I encourage my students to reflect upon their own knowledge bases. What do they know? What did they previously not know? What were their assumptions? Why, and where did those come from? What do they know now, as a result of engaging the work? How has this new knowledge challenged them? There is plenty of opportunity for critical thought here.

Why the epistolary. Because I like what writers can accomplish using this personal, even private form. You divulge a lot when you enter this mode. It’s deceptively casual, whether in letter/correspondence, or in diary form.

Why the lyric. Because I like the first person address, spoken with a growing confidence. Because I like the sincerity and creativity that comes from lyricizing. We have previous discussed literary devices — elements and techniques, the latter being not solely for aesthetics but to deepen the readers’ understanding, to provide emotional depth and complexity. So then lyric, and literary device.

Regarding language, I tell them to find that medium point between formal language, and their own “natural” language. I want them to tell me what they believe, not what they think I want them to tell me. Academic papers have been a drag to read for me, and this is because students’ hearts are not into it at all. You feel them go through the motions, lifeless, obligatory, no passion, no opinion. It’s pointless . So that’s why I decided on this format. You are adults, I tell them. You are here, in my class, because you want to be here. Take initiative, figure out what you want to get out of this class, and out of the readings and discussions.

So, I have read a couple of drafts. How much do I love, just absolutely love, the thoughtfulness, the willingness to use the page as reflection space. The idea for this assignment came from the last time I taught Lee A. Tonouchi’s “Da State of Pidgin Address,” in Asian American Literature class. It’s that message of not letting language get in the way of your ideas. When you speak and write in your natural language, this is where you can truly flesh out the complexities of your ideas. Sure enough, when I asked my last semester’s Asian American Literature students to write their final papers in their own voices, in their own language, choosing an assigned work to respond to, indeed, I saw the students with the most awkward midterm and weekly writings, just open up and speak, and construct critical arguments, and that’s awesome.

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