In a word: Students. That is my personal reality: students inspire me. Teachers often speak of that moment, that almost sacred moment when the light goes on and there are visible sparks in the eyes of learners…well, that is the moment I seek. I’m not going to lie, it doesn’t happen every single time, but when it does happen…the daily struggles of the profession are suddenly totally worth it. I know it sounds cliché, but it is true in my experience. This past spring semester, in my Reading in Spanish, for instance, students demonstrated such a range and depth of analysis that, suddenly, a Monday evening class was something I looked forward to! And it was not just academic insight, I was able to witness personal growth as well. There was this moment, while I was walking around one of the small-reading/discussion groups, I overheard the students saying to one another: “I can’t believe this kind of stuff actually happened here in the States! Men, I have to read up on this. I don’t know &%$#@.” Seeing my students learning about their own reality and culture in a Spanish class, to me, carries immense weight and truly inspires me in my current position as a teacher.
Working in the business world for years before becoming a college professor taught me how hard life truly is. I understand why people outside academia often look at universities as a bubble. This knowledge helps me guide my students more efficiently and with honesty. They see me as someone who “has been there,” and I value that tremendously. Working as a volunteer faculty member in the Humanities Ladder Program taught me that regardless of our circumstances, the thirst for learning is always there. The challenge is to find ways to help those unaware of such thirst to tune into their senses, experience some success, find their passion and ignite their engines to pursue it...to take a sip from that water of knowledge…in other words, finding ways to provide them with a little bit of that proverbial salt, so they realize they are thirsty!
What project(s) are you currently working on?
I have recently applied for a Grant that, if awarded, will allow the Modern Languages and Cultures Department to explore possibilities to establish working relationships abroad, in Panama, my country of origin in a variety of capacities such as service learning, study abroad, teaching English to speakers of other languages and student exchange programs. I am heading to Panama this summer to begin the legwork, hoping to make initial contacts and prepare the way if/when we can begin the actual project.
Why do you believe that the humanities are important to everyone, and not just people in academia?
The humanities are the key to human development. In this era of communication, when we are all wirelessly connected, the greatest paradox is the reality that we are lonelier than ever before. This is a surprise to many. However, it is easily understood if we stop and see, our relationships are all mediated. They are not genuine or real. They are “phony,” pun intended. Therefore, they are not truly satisfying. The human experience is lost in cyberspace. I believe, the humanities are a venue to restore the “awe” factor and dissipate the sense of loss caused by the frantic chase for new tech.
Every time I get this question, the first thing that comes to mind is the fact that, once, a million years ago, I won a beer-drinking-contest against a bunch of people, including several experienced-beer-drinking men. Not my proudest moment…but that has remained my go-to surprising fact about me to this day.
What shows are you currently binge-watching?
I don’t binge-watch shows, per se. I’m a HUGE movie fan, rather than a TV person. Also, I have two teenage sons, and our “thing” is to watch movies. So, now, we’ve been binge-watching the entire Marvel Universe, individual super-hero films as well as the Avengers Saga, while at the same time, finishing the Harry Potter series too.
What is your first thought in the morning and last thought at night?
I’m a spiritual person, so I try to turn my eyes towards heaven as the first thing in the morning, and the last thing at night.
What's a book you've always wanted to read but haven't gotten around to?
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. I finally got them all. And I have a challenge with my older son to read them this year…not sure if it will happen, but at least I’d like to get started.
What is the funniest thing that has happened to you recently?
I ran into a glass door in front of my older son. We were staying at a friend’s condo in Florida and we were getting ready to have lunch at the balcony. The a/c was on, so my son closed the sliding door after him, just as he has been taught to do when the air is on, but I didn’t realize it…so…lunch plate in hand, I ran into the stupid door. It was not funny right away, believe me! But after I picked up my bruised ego, we had a good laugh at the whole thing.
What is the worst job that you had while working through your degree and what would you tell your past self now?
I worked as a receptionist for an Accountants’ Firm in Panama, and the main part of my job was to guess…yes, guess, to have the super-power to be able to tell whether the owner and CEO of the firm was in the mood to take a phone call or not. I was not allowed to send any of his calls to voicemail. But I was not allowed to transfer any calls to him either, if he was not in the mood for it/them. And he was always in his office behind close doors. So, needless to say, I didn’t last at that job. I would tell the 21 year old me…”wait until you get married!”
Check back next month for more Coffee & Questions. In case you missed our previous interview with Michael Dittman, click HERE.