Friday, May 29, 2009

Managing the Teaching Load

Dr. Crazy has some advice up on how to thrive in a job with a heavy teaching load. I thought I'd offer some thoughts of my own on how to handle the teaching, which can spin out of control simply because those of us who love teaching can allow it to suck up all our spare time as we continually try to learn new things and refresh old ones to bring into our classes. With that in mind, here are three things that work for me as a history professor in trying to consolidate the time I spend prepping for courses, especially new ones.

1.) Set clear pedagogical goals

This is probably harder if your department emphasizes coverage, because there's always more stuff you could cover. It was also my enemy in the fall, when both my modern Middle East history course and my interdisciplinary Middle East "Core" course were hampered by my attempts to simply accomplish too much. A good counterexample, however, would be my spring course on the Ottoman Empire. There, precisely because I was concerned many students wouldn't find much value aside from filling a requirement, I articulated clear themes about universalist agrarian empires and nationalist historiographies, as well as the major stages of development within the Ottoman imperial system and attempts to reform it. This led me to spend much less time trying to figure out what to do with random provincial revolts and other potential themes that I could not tie into that governing agenda.

2.) Don't forget skill development

As a historian of the premodern Middle East, I have to learn to use many different types of evidence beyond the archival stuff that are most modernists' stock in trade. For example, one project I'm developing is on free ports in the Persian Gulf, and toward that end I've accepted a position as "Project Historian" on the imminent excavation of Kazima in Kuwait, a caravan trade entrepot from the 3rd through 9th centuries. The entire area of study will involve archaeology as well as written sources, and part of my interest in the project and my current outside readings is to deepen my understanding of archaeology as a discipline and the types of questions in which it specializes. This work will also inform my teaching of world history next year at Shippensburg when I discuss "how historians work" issues.

3.) Build more advanced courses out of your survey preparation

This I stumbled onto accidentally, but it's a good rule of thumb, as well. One theme I spent a lot of time on in my modern Middle East course was the development of Islam during the past 300 years, including 20th century Islamist political and social movements. This, of course, involved a lot of reading and attending conference sessions on those topics. As a result, when asked to teach an upper-level, mostly graduate course at Shippensburg this fall with limited and only occasionally concentrated resources, I felt qualified to take that on from the various possibilities. By the same token, in teaching modern world history and the modern Middle East in the spring, I'm planning to beef up on nationalism, which could give rise to an advanced course on Arab nationalism for Fall 2010. This can also, of course, run through research. During the spring, I realized that empire studies, rather than tribe studies, was really the best comparative context for my dissertation book, and the changes I'm making this summer will reflect that. This will also probably come up in world history, and perhaps set up an upper level course on comparative empires.



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