Eric Joost – 35 Years of Teaching Anthropology at HCC
As I walked into Eric Joost’s office, I could truly see what an accumulation of 35 years of teaching as an Anthropology professor looks like. There were piles and piles of books, magazines (a large collection of National Geographics from 1915-2012), and more artifacts than I could estimate, including pictures some orangutans had actually drawn on an iPad. Eric was nestled seated at his desk in the left corner of his very large office. Above his desk and pictured throughout the office were posters and photos of his favorite mammals – the primates (yes … that includes humans)! We proceeded to have an interesting conversation about his teaching experiences spanning 35 years and what he plans to do during retirement.
MC: How has your teaching experience evolved over 35 years?
EJ: I really didn’t think I would teach at first. I thought that I would get a job working at a museum. I did get the HCC teaching job and at first I was nervous about talking in front of groups. I had no education classes prior to teaching, so at first, I worked on my courses and developed lectures along with gathering visual materials. I stayed one chapter ahead of the students. Later, I began to get involved with committees and student groups, including Phi Theta Kappa as faculty sponsor, HCC Soccer Club for 12 years, Brain Bowl Team (as coach, college representative, and regional representative), Native American Month activities, Gordon Rule Committee chair, SACS Reaffirmation Process co- chair, General Education Committee representative, Behavioral Sciences cluster chair, and the Academic Affairs Committee cluster representative.
In my classroom, students learn exactly what anthropology is and the four fields that it includes. Anthropology is the study of humans – everything about humans – physically, culturally, linguistically, in the present, and the past in all parts of the world. Anthropology is an all-encompassing total study of humans. Because of this, it overlaps many other disciplines (sociology, economics, political science, comparative religion, biology, humanities). As students take my class they begin to see the connection between other courses. It is often referred to as a coordinating science. The course helps students learn about other cultures and, in turn, also learn about themselves. There is a folk wisdom that says a fish never knows that it is living in water. If it is outside the water it realizes the water. When you have something to compare to, you begin to look at differences and similarities. With anthropology, we study other cultures and even though we cannot visit the actual geographic location, we learn about them in the classroom. This exposes students to other differences and that is okay. When you understand others, you are less likely to judge them as inferior and learn to accept, respect, and appreciate other cultures and their diversity. HCC has about 120 cultures represented which enrich the classroom because students can contribute and share with others. [Eric chuckles.] If everyone took an Intro. to Anthropology course we’d have a more peaceful world!
MC: Technology has advanced tremendously over 35 years. What has been your observation in terms of its use in the classroom over those years?
EJ: Technology has had a positive and negative effect over the years. Cell phones are a distraction to students, as well as social media. However, we also have access to information from all over the world. The ELMO helps to show pictures in books and 3D images of artifacts. Now we have videos and internet access to show things on a big screen. Years ago we had 16 mm film. I’d have to order a projector from the audio-visual department and they would wheel the projector in the classroom on a cart. I’d thread the film in and sometimes it would skip and jump.
MC: What has been your most memorable teaching experience?
EJ: Years ago I took part in a Fulbright scholarship opportunity. A group of instructors from USF, HCC, and the K-12 system from Pinellas County went to Malaysia and Borneo. We visited different tribes. The group was the first to visit a village in one region. We also went to a conference and people reported on research and projects in Borneo. This was a real highlight of my teaching career. I really felt like an anthropologist. I was there for one month. I got to see an orangutan sanctuary. Many of the orangutans are orphaned because their mother was shot and they rehabilitate them there.
I have also met Jane Goodall twice and I have an autographed book from Margaret Mead, who has done research in the field of adolescence and written a book called Coming of Age in Samoa. I really admired her. She popularized anthropology in her own writing style as opposed to an academic style. In the US, we have a “stress and storm period;” however, in Samoa they have a rite of passage which makes for a smooth transition into adulthood. She came to USF and spoke and I got to meet her and she signed a copy of her book. I collect her books.
MC: Have students changed over the years?
EJ: Years ago, there were many students returning to school on the GI Bill after the Vietnam War. When we had more vets in the class, it brought a maturity and experience to the classroom. Today we have students from all different places, which also brings an experience to the classroom. Some students now have a little less respect than they did years ago; however, not all students are like this. They also have less respect towards their fellow students as well. This is part of the challenge of the community college. You get a wide variety of the community and some students are just not ready for the academic challenges. Students return after many years of having left HCC. I have a student who attended 20 years ago and was my student back then and she is now back and in the nursing program.
MC: What are you planning to do when you retire?
EJ: Many are asking if I will continue teaching on part-time basis. I will not do that mostly because of the lack of money, respect, and benefits.
I’ll be able to go to activities that I couldn’t go to because I had to teach, like the New Orleans Jazz Festival [Eric has a musical talent as well and has played bass guitar since 1967 and played in a few bands], the International Balloon Festival in New Mexico, and I always wanted to visit Chicago, Seattle, Stonehenge, Pompeii, and Machu Picchu. I’ll throw away the alarm clock! I have taught 8:00 a.m. classes for a long time. I will be able to work on my photography hobby as I travel to these places. I’ve displayed photos at HCC and in HCC publications (Galleria and The Triad). Check out more photos of Eric’s work at Gallery 3: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hccfl/sets/72157629468137980/
I really enjoyed my conversation with Eric! He loves the subject he’s taught for so many years at HCC and it is very clear that his students have valued him as an instructor as well. Many have commented on Ratemyprofessor.com . Here is an actual student’s remark: “VERY amazing professor. Makes learning soooo fun and you remember what he talks about … so, when test time comes, it’s so simple that I never even had to study! You will pass with an A as long as you just listen. He’s very animated and visual in the way he teaches, which is rare to find. He's also very educated in his subject. A++++ prof!!!” And another’s: “His passion for anthropology makes it easy to learn. Very logical and clear lectures. He brings in ancient artifacts, fossils, books, and videos to every class!! Talk to him during office hours, he's awesome!! BEST PROFESSOR I'VE EVER HAD!! :) INSPIRING, HILARIOUS! A+, ERIC. :)”