Thursday, November 5, 2009

Lectures on your own stuff

For the last few week I've been officially teaching repertoire that rubs right up against the music I research. While my prep time for lectures has diminished to a minimum, I find teaching my own area to be the most unexpected challenge of my course. And I'm not alone. Just last week, I met with a few other ethno/musicologists working in a visiting assistant professor capacity for other liberal arts colleges in Maine, and we all agreed: teaching your own stuff is the most difficult unit of a semester. That is, even if you do not necessarily write or research one aspect of the broader specialization, you may still fall victim to assuming that basic things to your topic are common knowledge (which they are not) thereby complicating even what you envision to be the most straightforward of lectures. Rest assured, I have been learning a lot in this class.

Rather than embarrass myself by listing the many examples of interesting assumptions I made during my São Paulo unit, I thought I would add my own take on lecturing best practices.

1) Even if you disagree with a canonic point, lecture is not the time to complicate it. Save those problematizing discussions for individual meetings and small seminar situations.

2) When discussing a culture different from the U.S. present, start with the nationalizing myths before delving into hybrids. I know it sounds basic, but it's an easy lesson to forget when trying to plan your syllabus.

3) When discussing notions of race elsewhere, avoid as much as possible comparisons to the United States. It's a rabbit hole and you will not escape.

4) Be emotionally prepared to get through significantly less content than you normally would in exchange for more depth. Students will ask more questions if they know it's your area.

And finally, when in doubt, refer to other sage guides on lecturing. It can be quite fun.


MMR said...

it's so true. When I finally got to teach a Berlioz lecture it was kind of a disaster. So confusing and complicated and me accidentally taking so much knowledge for granted. Making jokes and cracking myself up and no one else laughing. AWFUL. These are good tips, thank you!

rrb said...

Good advice, KG.
I had a similar experience teaching Mr. Gershwin's Rhapsody last week. I found my biggest "mistake" was saying that this was my "area of expertise." From that moment forward, I felt like any misstep was amplified as a result. Now, however, I don't think that it actually registered with them what being a specialist in a particular area even means.

KG said...

RRB, I totally agree that the students don't understand what "specialist" means. They do understand that we as professors/instructors are more invested in certain aspects of the course. One of my students confided that he thought the São Paulo unit was the best of the semester because of my emotional investment. I thought those lectures were the roughest of the semester, but he (and others, I'm sure) disagree. What we lack in smoothness of message, we make up in intensity... Not a bad thing, but we can always make our lectures and discussions better.

PMG said...

I totally hit that wall in the very first course I ever taught by myself. It was a history of rock and roll, and when I got to Nirvana day, I somehow assumed that because I can play through their entire catalog on my guitar, I didn't need to prepare lecture notes.

It didn't end well.

dj empirical said...

i'm not a teacher nor a musicologist, but i do often encounter this issue when i try to talk music with someone who does not have quite my level of obsession. i get about 3 levels in, and suddenly i realize that i've left them in the dust using unfamiliar terminology.

oh well.

Sammee said...

I found it very difficult to give a lecture on Opeth. I wanted to introduce my theory IV kids to analysis of death metal after the MTS article by Jonathan Pieslak, and well, yeah. I ended up babbling and taking so many tangents clarifying things. I find it really hard not to qualify the heck out of music I care about, because I just don't want them walking away with some kind of stereotypical notion of it. Thanks for this list!