As a tenure track professor at Baruch College within the City of New York University system, I meet a lot of instructors new to teaching the art history survey. At Baruch I am privileged to work with three Graduate Teaching Assistants a year and, if funds are available, a number of adjuncts. The GTFs arrive at Baruch having taken some version of the survey at their respective undergraduate institutions. But teaching it? That is a whole different animal.
The combination of full-time faculty (more experienced with the survey model) and temporary teaching fellows (less experienced) provides several ways in which we can strengthen our teaching in general and the survey course more specifically. Newer faculty often arrive with the following questions: What do I include? What do I exclude? Do I have too many images? Too few? Is my writing assignment too difficult? When should the assignment be due? How should the exam be formatted? How many exams should I give? What policies do I include on my syllabus? More experienced faculty express doubts as well: How can I liven up my assignments? How can I integrate technologies? Do I have too many images? Too few?
It was over these issues that Michelle and I found a common bond. Through our many and lengthy conversations we shared ideas with one another that helped to invigorate our lectures. I learned new ways to approach my subject and got the courage to toss the standard art history text (which I had wanted to do for years!). Through adopting MacGregor’s The History of the World in 100 Objects I found a model for my students and their writing assignments, and a new methodology for making art history relevant for them.
I learned to – gasp – introduce videos into my lecture. Too afraid before of losing lecture time, I realized that the little break from my voice gave them some energy for the rest of the class. And it often provided some light entertainment in the form of Monty Python’s “What Have the Romans Ever Done for Us.”
When I had time in my crazy schedule of juggling the TT and the home front with a toddler, I organized meetings among the art history faculty. Although it appeared that the temporary faculty found a benefit, as did I, the other full time faculty did not embrace these meeting in the spirit I had hoped. Aside from a creating a collegial environment in which to work (another topic for a lengthier post!), academically it was in the best interest of the department to foster a relationship between the full-time and temporary faculty. In addition to the many other reasons the survey course is a required part of a humanities curriculum, it is in the survey courses that we hope to spark an interest in our students for increased enrollment in the upper level courses. It is also where new teachers often learn their first teaching skills, thus where more experienced teachers can offer advice on developing good practices, and where their new energy and new ideas can be absorbed.
Since the majority of the students at my institution are taught the survey art history by GTFs or adjuncts instead of full-time faculty, it would serve everyone well to encourage dialogue between the two groups of teachers. But it is also an act of simple kindness and compassion. We were all those terrified and unprepared instructors once, long ago. By sharing ideas, syllabi, strategies, classroom management skills, grading techniques, etc., we can help usher the newer generation into the classroom and support strong, confident and effective survey instructors. And in return, they suggest new ideas, add to the pool, and will hopefully model the collegiality they receive as new teachers with those that will follow in their footsteps.
Seen in that light, sharing resources makes a difference on many levels. Join in. Share here.
Author: Karen Shelby
This is the first in a weekly series of AHTR blog posts on pedagogy, the art history survey, and issues in higher education. If you have a topic you’d like to raise or share in a post, get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org.