Preparing to Teach
Anyone who might teach archaeology, or any other subject for that matter, will probably have had at least one course in that subject or in a related field. Therefore, when it becomes our turn to teach, it is all too easy to turn to our experiences for designing a course; however, there are some other considerations to bear in mind BEFORE jumping into course design. While certainly we do well to remember what teaching techniques our favorite professors used in the classroom, we must also try to avoid repeating the mistakes of our worst instructors. The only way to insure such a balanced approach to teaching is by assuming a reflective and informed approach to one’s own teaching. This web-page will offer a practical step-by-step guide to preparing to teach, and will also suggest the scholarly sources available for those who wish to truly learn about teaching.
Understanding the Institutional and departmental context
At the most basic level, before even beginning to lay out a course, one should consider where this course will be taught. This means taking into consideration both the type of institution and the department or program in which the course is taught. Similarly, the overall curriculum and types of students are important.
Perhaps this concept does not seem that important, but consider the differing scenarios of the two case-study courses:
ArtH 111. This course was taught at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to approximately 250 students. I (Víctor Martínez) served as the lecturer (3x/week) and managed 5 teaching assistants who each taught one or more discussion sections once per week. The course was part of the Art History program. The intended audience was primarily first year students of which most were studio art majors and for whom the course was a requirement. Some second-year and upper class students also took the course to fulfill general education requirements. Thus, the course was design with an emphasis on process and design principles and on function of objects. The language used throughout the syllabus and the lectures emphasized the creative processes of manufacture and the functional context for those creative processes. Because the students were almost all freshmen, lectures and discussion were designed so that the number of objects used was kept to a minimum (no more than 4 objects or monuments were discussed in any one lecture). Similarly, the discussion sections focused more on developing verbal and writing language skills for dealing with art and architecture than on theoretical concepts related to the art historical field. The sections were designed to build on one another: from description to analysis to comparison.
GRS 270. This course on Egyptian Art and Architecture was part of the Greek and Roman Studies concentration at Illinois Wesleyan University. Enrollment was around 20 students, many of whom had already taken at least one course in an ancient language, history, or art. Those who had no background were enrolled by choice, not as a requirement, and often had personal experience with the subject (e.g at least one student could read hieroglyphs and a second had recently travelled through Egypt). Unlike Arth 111, this course emphasized the cultural context of the objects and monuments. While these students were also taught elements of visual analysis, emphasis was placed on understanding the use of hieroglyphs and the cultural context of objects and sites.
Teaching as learning: a brief digression
Inevitably what and how you teach in a classroom will be different the second time around. There will be styles that suit your personality or the philosophy of your personality better. Each opportunity to teach a course, or even a single class, is an opportunity for you to learn what your teaching style is. Reflect on what works or does not work for you and your classes and learn what to keep doing and what to change for next time. As such, these case study courses should not be considered as ideal models, but rather as flexible templates.
Developing a teaching philosophy
The teaching philosophy is a statement justifying your instructional practices. As you become comfortable with what you teach, you will also become comfortable with how you teach – do not, however, mistake confidence with complacency! Even if you have little or no teaching experience you may already have an idea how you will shape your instructional career. Your teaching philosophy should describe your beliefs about teaching and learning.
When crafting a teaching philosophy ask yourself what are your learning goals and what teaching methods you believe work best for you. Identify specific points that connect methods to goals.
Reference: Gabriela Montell, “How to write a statement of teaching philosophy,” The Chronicle of Higher Education. March 27, 2003.