Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Day 02 (Round II) "In the trenches"

Day 2 (the Tuesday-Thursday, as opposed to Mon-Wed-Fri rotation). For us, the Tues-Thurs is when most of the upper-level (4000-level) and graduate (5000-7000-level) history courses are taught: 80 minutes per day, twice a week, as the more advanced topics and students tend to do better with the longer meeting times and ability to concentrate. First meeting of my World Music seminar, which despite a rather generic title is in fact a topics-oriented course--there's no way I'm going to try to teach a "comprehensive survey" of all the world's musics in 8 semesters, much less 1. So it's more of a case-study approach, focusing on specific genres in specific culture-areas, but trying to trace functionalist/contextual/cognitive priorities across and between contrasting zones. A course I've taught twice before here, and taught semester-after-semester as PT adjunct at Indiana--so a set of topics I know cold: don't really use notes for it anymore, just lecture from the 1- and 2-word slides in each meeting's Powerpoint presentation.

On the other hand, just last spring 2008 taught my "Musics of the African Diaspora" course, and those music occupy at least 7 weeks of the World Music course. So the overlap, given that there are several kids from last spring in this fall's seminar, would be way too extensive. So, in turn, I'm taking the opportunity to parcel out those Diasporic topics and build in some new culture areas and idioms--including some I haven't taught before. It's always interesting, and challenging, to revisit a course I've taught in the past and really try to "make it new."

Typically, the first 2 or 3 years that somebody teaches in a FT tenure-track position are very very demanding, because (typically) that's when new faculty write and learn how to deliver the meat-and-potatoes courses they've been hired to cover. I was lucky, in the case of the world music topic, because I had taught a variant of the topic so many times as an adjunct. But the first iterations of the 20th century, medieval, ethnomusicology, and American seminars--and, for that matter, the undergraduate antiquity-to-1750 and 1750-to-the present surveys (prior to our revising and expanding the sequence)--were pretty damned demanding. I'd get out of one meeting and immediately sit down to grind out the lecture that was coming up in 48 hours.

This is why, in any sane setting, new faculty are not loaded down with service obligations, or committee work, and why we don't really start tallying the tenure-dossier items in the first year of the appointment: because it's such a remorseless grind to get those courses written, and delivered, and refined, in the first couple of years. And because somebody new to the FT grind should have the time cleared in order to be able to get good at the teaching which is the guts of why we hire them. And why, when possible, we try to hire people who are already good at teaching, because if they've taught a course or courses before--if they can hit the ground running in terms of at least some of the teaching,-- they have a huge jump-start forward in terms of refining their delivery.

And I still refine, 8 years later, and on the 3rd and 4th iterations of some of these classes. I still come out of every meeting, and immediately after class sit down, revise the lecture notes and the Powerpoint, continuing to fine-tune and hone. I actually get a double-dip from this: refine and revise the Powerpoint so that I can both plan ahead for the material to be covered in the next class meeting, and so I can turn it into a slideshow, to be uploaded to the course website. Then the students have the slideshow for study and review, I know what's been covered, and I've revised and fine-tuned for whatever is the next iteration of the class.

One of the reasons that, in our department, we've tried to move as much of our content delivery (audio, video, scores, texts, images) to the digital realm is that it so drastically expedites and streamlines our ability to revise, refine, share, and deliver to wider, non-traditional, and/or distant populations. It also means--because my staff have historically been so generous with one another, and with their successors--that we can share the material from previous iterations of the class as new people take over teaching it. So the material is constantly refined, both by individuals as they revisit their own presentation, and as they pass that presentation forward to others who may be inheriting. So the unworkable idiosyncrasies and the procedural loopholes get ironed out by successive instructors, the unique and valuable individual ideas and insights get shared and borrowed and permutated, and everybody wins. Including the students.

Below the jump: sunset on the South Plains. New Mexico sunsets at W Texas prices.

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