Behind a door plastered with anthropology-related jokes, Professor Lehman sits in his office with a friendly smile on his face. He is the lecturer for ANT101 and has been teaching the course for 10 years in Convocation Hall.
When asked about what really happens during his long Con Hall lectures, Lehman gives a mysterious answer.
“It’s gotten pretty crazy sometimes in that big space, and we’ll just leave it at that,” he says. ANT101, he explains, is a basic, broad introduction to anthropology. The course teaches everything from the earliest primate origins to modern humans and forensics.
“As opposed to the upper year courses that I teach, which are highly specialized, this is a sample course where I’m able to teach a broad spectrum of topics. It’s cool and I like it,” Lehman says.
His love for anthropology is something that helps him tackle the unique challenges of teaching in Con Hall, like relating to so many students and being enthusiastic and energetic while he’s at it.
At first, it was daunting. I had never stood up in front of so many people on a stage with a microphone”
Lehman recalls that his first time teaching the course was an overwhelming experience.
“At first, it was daunting. I had never stood up in front of so many people on a stage with a microphone,” he remembers. “It took me a while to figure out what worked, and I still tinker my lectures to make them better. I get an immediate response from students, from which I am able to change my lecture material.”
Lehman’s teaching strategies mainly involve using humour and personal experiences, which he claims help with memorization. When a joke is told, the idea is solidified regardless of whether or not the joke is funny.
By sharing jokes and personal anecdotes, Lehman tries to establish himself not as an unapproachable authority figure but rather as a resource that students can come to with questions.
“Students pay a lot of money to come to these lectures, so they most definitely should be able to talk to their professors. It’s just like if you’re discontent with a $5 coffee — surely you would want your money back,” he says.
Lehman also emphasizes to his students the importance of keeping up with the readings in order to avoid an all-too-familiar situation of cramming right before tests.
In an attempt to make his classes more fun, Lehman wrote the course textbook, in which he incorporates humour and his own experiences at the beginning of each chapter.
To improve his teaching style, he looks back to his time as an undergrad at the University of Calgary.
One professor in particular, who was a good public speaker and worked hard to make the class more personal, has served as Lehman’s inspiration through the years.
“I remember when I went to go talk to my first professor as a student, my hands were all clammy and I was really nervous. But now I look back at those times and laugh. Students need to realize that professors are just like everybody else, but maybe a little clumsier and socially challenged,” he says, laughing.
Though now a seasoned professor, Lehman mentions that it was in his earlier years in university that he realized he wanted to pursue anthropology.
“Anthropology actually picked me. When I was a student and signing up for courses, one of my friends told me to take a monkey course that included trips to the zoo. I thought it sounded interesting and realized by the second class that it was what I wanted to do,” he says.
In addition to teaching classes at U of T, Lehman has spent the last 13 years studying lemur conservation biology in Madagascar.