I had two unexpected moments in the last week completely outside of the classroom that led to (or will, in the future lead to) great teaching moments.
Last week I was recording a script I’d written in a studio, for a project I’ve been working on for two years. In the lecture I was reviewing cross tabulation tables, and the example I had looked at 2016 presidential vote choice and gender. Unbeknownst to me, someone in the control room changed the text on the teleprompter so that every time I used the words ‘man’ or ‘women’ they used ‘male’ and ‘female’. Rather than stop the recording, I just started changing the words back as I spoke, which led to some awkwardness (man-Clinton voter does not roll off the tongue the same as ‘male Clinton voter’). Finally the folks in the control group stopped me, and I explained that the original text used man and woman deliberately, and that changing it without speaking to me was an issue. I was talking about gender, not sex, and I wanted it to stay consistent. This paused the recording for a few minutes, and during the lull I explained to the camera operators why this was important enough to stop for. We had a really nice conversation on the difference between sex and gender, and this turned into what we sometimes call ‘teachable moments’. Script corrected, I continued recording.
The second moment was completely different. Today I had jury duty. For those of you outside the US, this is when we get called to the courthouse to sit and wait until you are called into jury selection for a trial. Sometimes you just sit in the waiting area for a day or two and are dismissed; other times you get put on a case right away, and spend the next day or two answering questions from the attorneys while they pick and choose who to put on the jury itself. Sometimes they case will settle or be dismissed while jury selection is going on
I don’t mind jury duty. Its one of the only things asked of me as a citizen, and I do see it as a civic duty. Since I teach American politics, I’d like to have the experience of actually serving on a jury, but that has yet to happen, and many of my legal friends indicate it’s unlikely to ever happen. Since I already had guest lecturers lined up this week for my daytime class, I didn’t request a postponement, and headed downtown this morning to serve.
Walking into the building, right after I passed through security, a police officer noted that I was carrying a heavy bag, and I stopped and chatted with him for awhile. It turned out this was the sheriff himself, and he used to be a public school teacher in his early career. Soon we were exchanging business cards, and he agreed to come talk to my students during our lesson on the judiciary next semester. Did I teach him anything in our short conversation this morning? No. But I’ll be able to create a great teachable moment for my students in a few months, all because I stopped to chat with someone rather than doing what I normally do, which is plug in my headphones and hurry on my way. I’m not going to suddenly change my ways or anything, but sometimes an unexpected but nice conversation can serve as a reminder of the good things in this world.