Cody Bema

How did your experiences at CSUB help you find your first position after graduation?

            To be perfectly honest, CSUB was not my first choice when I was applying for colleges my Senior year of high school.  At that time, like many students my age, I was enamored by the “brand name” universities that seemed to not only purvey a multitude of course offerings but a veritable cavalcade of social and cultural opportunities as well.  CSU, Bakersfield, in my then-ignorant estimation, was the antithesis of these scholar-themed amusement parks.  However, it was at this time I was struggling with depression and, subsequently, had managed to cut myself off from many of my friends and my collegiate aspirations.  

 Even though I was drowning in melancholy when I entered CSUB, which, coincidentally, was the only school I had the energy to apply for-thanks to the college admissions representatives who had come onto my high school campus and walked me through the application process, my vision was not too clouded to keep from seeing that this university is, essentially, a community built upon a foundation of mutual intellectual and existential admiration as it provided an amazing opportunity for its students to connect with each other and to its professors on a very personal level.  The relationships that were forged while I was a student made me the thinker, the human, I am today.  

When I graduated, I left CSU, Bakersfield, actively seeking out people with whom I could make a connection--I craved community.  This longing led me to seek employment at Habitat for Humanity, Fresno, where I was hired to be the worksite supervisor.  I had no experience in the field of residential construction or even the most rudimentary understanding of carpentry, but my lack of know-how (and adroitness with power tools) did not hinder my experience with this great non-profit organization, for, thanks to my time at Cal State, I had the desire and the skillset to make significant connections with volunteers, fellow Habitat employees, and vendors.

 What career advice would you give our students?

            Do not confuse struggling with failure, for the product of the struggle is growth.  Failure only happens when you stop struggling.  

 How did you decide to pursue the career that you are working in today? Was there a pivotal moment?

            Initially, I decided to become an English teacher because I liked to read and I was terrible at math.  I did not truly appreciate what that meant until I was exposed to pedagogical and andragogical philosophy of Plato, Aristotle, John Dewey, John Locke, Jean Jacque Rousseau, Paulo Freire, Allan Bloom (jerk), Alfie Kohn, bell hooks, Karl Popper, and Lev Vygotsky (among others) by Cal State’s Dr. Jacqueline Hughes, Dr. Michael Ault, and Kent Price.  That was when I discovered that education is not distributing worksheets or assigning students a reading packet with questions that are to be completed at the end of the passage. Education is the practice of intermingling subjective freedom with objective Truth, of subverting the anaesthetic by striving for the aesthetic, of waking up to the struggle that is life.

 What do you attribute your success to?

            By not realizing that I am professionally successful.  This isn’t a “humble brag;” I am just not inclined to rest on the laurels I acquire from my job.  My family, my wife and two kids, are my true success (and my struggle).  They are my rudder as they keep me upright and focused.

 How do you foster creative and innovative thinking within your organization?

            Within my classroom, I attempt to introduce to the students many different approaches to literature (heck, to life!) through the incorporation of critical theory.  Each of these varied literary approaches takes the students outside of their own self-involved paradigms and challenges them to look at a piece of literature, art, and their own identities with a different pair of eyes.  Inevitably, they will return to their own respective perspectives but with a better understanding of how their viewpoints were formed and how they might be limited.  

 Furthermore, I also attempt to subvert the teacher/student dichotomy by making that distinction hazy as I often switch with the students where they are the teacher and I the student or where we are all students.  This is an arduous endeavor as the entire institution of education seems to be based upon the student/teacher juxtaposition; however, that separation undermines an environment where a passion for Beauty and Truth can be shared–COMPASSION!

 What are the most important decisions that you face daily as a leader in your organization?

    When I look into the eyes of each of my students, I see infinite potential, infinite curiosity, the infinite capacity to create something new that would inspire the rest of humanity to look within its collective self and to find and embrace its human spirit, the metaphysical entity that is our true identity and our intimate connection to the rest of humanity as well as to the Divine. This human spirit is a precious resource that must remain unsullied by the disease-ridden hands of society. For some of us who are older, we have already sacrificed our spirit, our identity, for the purpose of fulfilling social expectations. On the other hand, our young people, although occasionally injured by social injustice and personal traumas, still retain their virtuosity, their ability to find their true selves, their drive to express themselves in ways that are new and innovative, enriching society with this creativity.

 As a teacher, I sometimes feel it is my job to quash that spirit and to force my students into an existence that is unnatural and destructive to their true identities, and now, with the implementation of the Common Core, I will be asked to figuratively “core” or remove my students’ center, their individual perspectives, their subjectivities and to fill the emptiness with a common, sanitized identity.  As a human being, nevertheless, it is my obligation to encourage my students in their struggle to discover who they truly are and to express themselves in new, exciting, and enriching ways.

Which accomplishment are you most proud of?

    Every Halloween for 8 years, I had the opportunity to see East Bakersfield High School students express compassion towards a group people who are constantly pushed aside by our society -- the special needs community. As a member of the planning team for the MOVE Halloween Bash at East High, I partnered with the student volunteers to make sure that this was not just a frivolous social engagement where students and teachers could hang out and have a good time and be fed pretty decent pizza and ice cream; it was an exhibition of compassion as the students opened their arms and gave this marginalized community a warm and loving embrace. Being a part of this phenomenon left me not proud, but inspired, truly, truly inspired.  Also, I also started working on a podcast, along with fellow alumni, Jesson Nelson, Elizabeth Nelson, and it’s called Pedagogues and Monsters.  

I currently work on a podcast called Pedagogues and Monsters, along with two additional CSUB Alumni, Jesson Nelson, and Elizabeth Nelson!