Can you imagine being a student of mine?
I am a thinker first and foremost. Over the years teaching in the Graduate Planning Programme at York University in Toronto students have been subject to my out-loud thinking about various social issues.
Every year I teach a course called Community Planning and Housing. Gerry Daly used to teach the course. He is one of my heroes. He wrote a book called Homeless: Policies, Strategies and Lives on the Street, which should be in the library of every person who does this kind of work. He had a huge impact on me when I was in Grad School. Big shoes to fill indeed. But here I am teaching the course more than 6 years later so I must be doing something right.
Some years I also teach a course on Public Participation. Other years I also teach a course on Social Policy. This year (as far as I know) I am only teaching the Community Planning and Housing course.
I love being a professor…teacher…educator…thought provoker…facilitator of knowledge. It is a privilege and an honour. I remember when Dr. Barbara Rahder first approached me to teach before she became the Dean of the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University. I was so nervous. Many years before she was the Supervisor of my Graduate work. How do you say no to a mentor like her?
What I love most about teaching are the students. Every year there are 12 or more Graduate students who think it is worth their time and energy to spend 3 hours with me per week. I find myself challenged by their questions and motivated by their quest for knowledge. I find it helps my professional work as well, as they keep me current on research methods and emerging research.
My students and I don’t always agree. I tell them starting on the first day that part of my job is to provoke. They actually don’t know what I think about the subject matter until the final class. Why? Because I think it is important to keep an ongoing healthy debate. It also forces me to consider the “Devil’s Advocate” position in what is mainly a left-leaning faculty.
The next year starts in just over a week. I am stoked. What questions await me? How many will show up to class the first day and never return again? How many will know lots about housing and homelessness? How many will appreciate the connection between what the current reality is and our shared historic reality? Will they be prepared to be challenged – write a great paper and do a phenomenal presentation?
Teaching helps me be a better person. I can assure you it is not for the money. In fact I donate much of the salary to causes and community based efforts that are aligned with who I am as a person. Being a teacher makes me a better student – a student of the community and people and world that surrounds me. Being an instructor makes me thirsty for knowledge. I yearn to find out how the world can be made a better place. I don’t want to miss any opportunity to gain insight on how that may happen. I am eternally grateful to almost every student I have ever had the pleasure to teach.
If you are interested more in Iain’s teaching activities or want to see a course syllabus, send him an email at [email protected]. You may also want to check out www.yorku.ca/fes – one of the premier interdisciplinary faculties and non-traditional planning programmes that are offered world-wide.