Q & A with Tyson Sukava, Assistant Professor of Classics (Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures)
For his first semester here at UD, Tyson is teaching courses on Latin and Greek as well as a course titled, “Gods, Heroes, and Monsters,” which deals with Latin and Greek texts in translation. His research interests include Greek medicine and science, in particular, Greek scientific conceptions of the human body. We asked Tyson about his experience teaching here and UD and what he loves about our students.
Q: What’s your favorite thing about UD students?
A: It’s been a stellar experience so far. My favorite thing is my students’ enthusiasm about the material; they really engage and want to learn more. I organize my classes with this in mind; you want them to want to learn more and you want them to come back. I think that’s an important part of the learning experience; supporting the desire to seek out new knowledge.
My students in my language courses (Introductory Latin and Greek) are mostly freshmen, and I see it as an opportunity to help them transition into the broader university experience. Every year I teach it’s like I’m coming to the university setting for the first time; I get the opportunity to explore a broad world of content along with my students.
I want to know what brought students into my classroom. This allows me to think about future structure and to organize the class because they are there for a wide range of reasons. For some, it’s pragmatic: they need a language requirement and this fits into their schedule. Again, this is an opportunity for me to show them the joy of the humanities. A big part of that is mystery! There is an idea of the unknown [in the study of ancient texts]– a secret, long-dead language that you are able to uncover. Every time I come to the text there are ideas that have been buried for a long time. I am helping students develop the tools to be able to access that text. But teaching intro ancient languages is very different than teaching modern languages. You aren’t asking students to order a cup of coffee. From early on, you’re already talking about death and destruction…
And speaking of death and destruction! My mythology course is an introductory course for the study of the Classics in general. I bring students in with the draw of fantastic tales. I have about 183 students this semester, and that gives me an opportunity to think about the diverse student backgrounds in the class. There is cultural and experiential diversity in that room, so I ask myself, “How will this 115 minutes satisfy the broadest interests of these students?” I hope to satisfy some of the broad questions across the humanities such as, “Who are we as individuals? What kind of world do we live in?” People 2500 years ago were asking the same questions.
Q: Do you have a humorous anecdote about your teaching that you’d like to share?
A: Well, when I am teaching material I try to connect to modern pop culture… I am coming from Canada, so I think that sometimes my connections aren’t so relevant. But I used the example of the movie Gladiator, which a student then described as, “an old movie.”
Q: What are your top campus resources to support teaching?
A: I attended the First Friday Roundtable on getting students to talk in class which was great. I will continue to attend events like that because this is a process. I also think it’s important to find good mentors and engage in peer learning, talking to colleagues about teaching, even generally speaking… It’s really important to make connections beyond our little “orbs,” and to mobilize our knowledge. The group of Classics faculty here is 4 people and we informally work together to support each other. We are challenged to think about how the Classics are integrated into a changing university dynamic. Being a part of the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures I have exposure to a broad group of people who are doing things in a diverse set of ways. This is very helpful for my own teaching.
Classics is sometimes treated as an island off on its own; I want to, and I want my students to, think about Greek and Latin as living languages when they are taught. To make it easier for students to apply this for their learning; students have different ways of acquiring language and having a chart in front them is not always the best way. We want to show students what they can do after they learn these charts. That they will be able to access and verbalize the words of someone 2000 years ago.
Q: What’s one piece of advice you’d like to offer your colleagues?
A: Drawing on advice that I got- take chances! Take the opportunities to learn more. Try new things. Difficulties arise when you decide to sit on your laurels. Always think about how X or Y can be done better. On the broad spectrum of course design and on the scope of individual lectures. Feel free to experiment. Enthusiasm is the best way to transmit anything to the students; enthusiasm is telegraphed to your students.