I worked as an applied anthropologist for a few years and was far from academia, with no expectations that I’d ever teach at the college level. Leaving grad school before I completed my Ph.D. pretty much severed me from the regular academic possibilities for employment. I admitted to myself that it’d be pretty brazen to send out applications just for adjunct positions, not anything with a ghost of a shot at tenure. One friend of mine had received tenure at a community college system before finishing the doctorate, but that was far outside the expected situation.
So I sat in my tiny office in a small city near Boston doing ethnography, creating public programs, writing popular press articles, and running a small specialty library. A big advantage to this was the three small ethnic bakeries within a five-block radius and several exceptional Italian and Portuguese restaurants. Snacks and lunches were never going to be a problem. I was a bare two miles from several major colleges, a university, and several departments of anthropology and folklore, but I may have well been in Borneo. The elites on the other side of town saw my side of town as a sort of ghetto. Actual fieldwork, ethnography, and work with “interesting” people happened thousands of miles away. In short, I soon gathered that among the sort of people I had previously clubbed with, my people were not worth studying.
I was shocked one day when my office phone rang, and the Dean of a small college asked me if I’d be interested in teaching an introductory class in anthropology. I had been recommended because of my experience with American ethnic communities. They wanted someone to teach nursing students anthropology with some rootedness in what they might see in a hospital in Boston, Lowell, New York, or another metropolitan city. Oceania, Africa, or other traditional venues for anthropological and cultural studies were important, but they wanted more local and practical information for the students. I accepted right away. It was a dream come true. Professor Louis Carreras. Yes, it was an adjunct position but a job teaching anthropology.
I began by cataloging what I had to offer beyond what the curriculum and text materials provided. I had spent years in operating rooms, emergency wards, and on medical/surgical floors in hospitals. I knew the world that the graduate nurses would be entering. I gained insights into folk medicine practices and their pharmacopeia through several years of working in local communities. I had something to bring to the classroom beyond a knowledge of the four traditional quadrants of anthropology.
I did not yet have a teaching model. a standard, or an example. I very early discarded emulating most of the model’s graduate school offered me. I reached deep and found that my most influential model had been my favorite anthropology professor in undergrad. Approachable and with great empathy for the student, I adopted Frank’s teaching quirks right down to his use of a pocket watch to keep track of how much time he was spending on the topic. Frank had known that many of his students would not be professional anthropologists but could take away from the course valuable insights.
I later blended in some of the methods used by my favorite graduate school archaeology professor; Bernard knew just when to introduce an anecdote or a wry bit of humor.
My three years of teaching as an adjunct are precious to me. I found a voice and an ability to pass on essential and practical knowledge. But I also learned a lot about how presentation is vital in teaching. I now realize that I was fortunate to be able to draw experience from some excellent sources.