Cultural Anthropology Week 1: Rite of Passage

Welcome to my weekly reflection of my cultural anthropology class! Going in to my first class, with over a month of build-up, I was pretty nervous. Spoiler alert: the class went fine and I was filled with joy doing it. There are things I would change for next time, though.

My class is on Fridays from 9 to around noon. I had assumed that this was three classes worth of time since I have only had experience with Monday-Wednesday-Friday class schedules. I found out a little too late that this is intended to be just two classes in length. With the false assumption in mind, I had three classes worth of material planned: one hour of introductions, another of general anthropology, and a third of a course preview.

I had read James Lang’s On Course (2008), which had the very helpful advice of meeting students at the door on the first day to meet everyone on an individual basis. With this advice in mind, my personality overruled it and I opted to stare at my slides in the dark while students came in. I definitely have to work on that for next time!

For the first hour I had a lot going on. I went over the syllabus and then split the students into teams of three or four. The purpose is to form subcategories of students so I would remember each person more easily, and make instant class partners who can help each other with notes, etcetera. I also plan to have a team poster project in the second half of the course. While students are sure to add and drop in the first weeks, I thought that it was important to form the teams early and deal with the changes as they happen. Also, secretly, I figure that putting them in a team would make the students less likely to drop. As an instructor who was hired soon before the semester started, my class was not listed in the paper/PDF course schedule. Students had to find my class through online searching or via their counselor’s suggestion. As I predicted, my class population is borderline at the cancel/don’t cancel line, so every body counts.

While the students were in teams, I handed out two sheets to every student: a team charter and a course survey. The charter has blanks for each student’s name and email, a spot for a team name, and, a last minute addition, a place for a team logo. Might as well go all the way for the team concept! I plan to do something with the logos later on. Maybe stickers? I also had the students fill out an extra team charter for my own records. The course survey had a few questions about one’s reasons for taking this class and goals in general. The last question is meant to shock and entertain: “Would you like to enter a random drawing to have coffee with the instructor?” I got this idea from U.C. Berkeley anatomy professor Marian Diamond’s iTunes U class. She had a random drawing every class for lunch with her. Since I don’t have Marian Diamond money, I made it coffee instead. This idea really stuck in my mind for a few reasons: being new to this college, I knew nothing about what students do or how the school works on their level. Talking to a sample of students would really help me understand their perspective. I can also talk to them about how the class is going. Having it done as a coffee chat instead of a mandatory office hour meeting also acts as an incentive for students to participate. With a lower class size, the ‘sample’ may turn out to be everyone who opted in!

Forming teams, filling out a team charter, and also doing the course survey was too much to do at once. I was also going from group to group, talking to each student. Next time, I will space out these activities instead of doing it all at once. As students got to know each other, some neglected the paperwork and I had to remind them. Getting the course surveys back, some end mid-sentence, lost in the flurry of activity.

The first hour took an hour and fifteen minutes. I gave everyone a five minute break before getting to the actual course material. The first lecture, on what anthropology entails, was probably too detailed. Each subfield had at least two slides with a few of the key terms. Next time, I may just give a one line description of each subfield. The key terms for cultural anthropology (e.g., fieldwork, participant observation) can wait for the next class session instead of explaining it now. I also had a video about the four fields to show, but I talked so much that I ran out of time.

After a ‘mini-break’ that also ended up being five minutes, I launched into the last third of the class, giving a quick overview of the rest of the class sessions. The goal was to be a trailer of sorts of the things that we will examine, such as subsistence, organization, gender, race, and religion. I had a lot of questions on each topic, even though it was meant to just pose questions with no answers yet. I may have to curtail questions in future sessions. Also, looking at the clock, I only had a half hour for this third of the class! By the end, I had to skip the class activity, video, and end-of-class question that I had planned.

As class wrapped up, the students seemed to have a good time. One said that this is a lot more fun than the usual lectures. I might have heard a clap or two, but I might have imagined it in my post-first-class elation.

Talking with a far more-experienced colleague later, I realized that I was putting undue pressure on myself to present as much of the textbook as possible. She encouraged me to just have fun with the class and present what I want. The next class, split into halves about the history of the field and then linguistic anthropology, will have a lot fewer slides and more activities and videos (certainly more than zero!). We’ll see how it goes from there!



Lang, J. M. (2008). On course : A week-by-week guide to your first semester of college teaching. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

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