Our society is designed to keep people in the dark about what is happening to animals. Only those who really care take the time and make the effort to learn the facts. If you care about animals (and, since you’re reading Our Hen House, you probably do), then chances are you know a lot more than most people. The good news is that more and more folks are starting to wake up, and beginning to want to know more. So, with the onset of the New Year, one of the things you might think about doing in order to help change the world, is taking that knowledge you have and imparting it to others. In one way or another, you need to be a teacher — we all do. Regardless of where you stand on New Year’s resolutions, maybe this is the year to take that role to a new level.
As for myself, I certainly didn’t start out as a teacher. I am a lawyer, and have been for longer than I care to admit in this blog entry. But law was one of the first areas of academia to focus on animal issues in a serious way, and law schools were eager to find people with some expertise in the brand new field of animal law to teach courses. Thus, about 5 years ago, my teaching career was born.
These days, when I’m not running Our Hen House with Jasmin, I teach animal law as an adjunct at 3 law schools in New York City — positions I hold near to my heart, even if it has caused me a few grey hairs in the process. Incidentally, those grey hairs are thanks to the nature of the work itself, given that I am, since birth, an introvert. It has nothing to do with my incredible and eager students, nor does it involve the coursework, which I frequently find riveting. There are so many aspects of teaching that I love — but, let me tell you, I never thought I would be the one standing at the podium. I have found that, sometimes, animal advocacy combines with life in an unusual and unpredictable way. I am, indeed, “the professor and Mariann.” (If you are too young to get that reference, I don’t even want to know about it.)
If you’ve never taught before, it may — at first, anyway — seem a bit daunting. It certainly did for me (and, truth be told, it still has its moments). In order to ease your way in, one way to start fairly small is to explore the adult education resources in your area. Perhaps there is a formal adult education program at your local community college, or your nearby high school. Or perhaps your community library has adult ed programs. Or there may be a private provider of continuing education courses, such as New York’s Open Center. Look at the current course offerings and think about what sort of class you would want to pitch that would fit in with the type of courses they offer. One idea might be a broad introduction to the issues involved in animal rights. Another idea is a focus on animals in food production. Or, if you’re a lawyer, you could teach one on the fundamentals of animal law. That could be a great opportunity to inform people on the laws concerning some of the everyday issues that confront them regarding their pets, while also broadening their knowledge-base about animal exploitation.
Can you cook? (If so, feel free to drop by for dinner.) A course in the fundamentals of vegan cooking is one of the most valuable things you could offer someone who wants to live more compassionately, but doesn’t know where to start. And such a course could give you the entrée (pun intended) to offer people some much-needed information about vegan nutrition. People are hungry for this information (pun intended again), and, as you make it available to them, you can literally save their lives — along with the animals. How’s that for food for thought?
If you have some academic credentials, you might want to think about moving beyond adult education. Animal studies is now a growing and vibrant part of almost every academic field, as the New York Times has recently recognized, and undergraduate courses in animal studies are booming, as is also evident from the directory kept by the Animals and Society Institute. Our friend David Wolfson, who has taught animal law for many years, is now teaching an undergraduate Animals and Public Policy course at New York University, as part of their minor in Animal Studies. These kinds of opportunities are going to be growing by leaps and bounds, and there are not that many people with the expertise to fill them. Moreover, we certainly don’t want to see the field of animal studies coopted by industry, or by people with a shortsighted view of the issues.
Needless to say, undergraduate teaching gigs may be difficult to get for the beginner. However, community colleges could certainly be a possibility. It’s 2012 — the year of taking chances! That’s according to me, anyhow — and I just made that up right now. But, hey, let’s go with it. If teaching is something you’ve always wanted to do, but it seems scary to you, that’s because it’s a Big Deal. But it’s also a totally necessary step in terms of long-term change for animals, and there are ways of approaching it that are both attainable and fulfilling. It doesn’t have to be terrifying. Don’t make it harder than it is.
While we’re on the subject, if you are, like me, a lawyer, remember that there are still not a lot of people out there with an expertise in animal law, and there are a ton of law schools adding courses — so the possibility of getting an adjunct professorship is very real. If there’s already a course at your local law school, think about pitching a separate course on, say, companion animal law, or farmed animal law, or some kind of other subset of animal law. Or, if all of this seems way too daunting, think about hooking up with your bar association to teach a Continuing Legal Education program on your area of expertise. Believe me, one thing can lead to another!
Maybe teaching feels outside your comfort zone. If so, try to rethink. While you may have to brush up your public speaking skills (Toastmasters, anyone?) or overcome your shyness (if I can do it, anyone can), you already possess the most important thing that any teacher can have — the truth.