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.