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  • Classics Pedagogy for Teaching in a Liberal Arts College
  • Eric Dugdale

Before they can join the ranks of the professoriate, students in classics Ph.D. programs across the United States must pass through a rigorous array of courses, reading lists, and qualifying exams, all intended to deepen their knowledge of their subject matter. But many programs still fail to offer more than minimal training in teaching methods. Novice teachers are often thrust into the classroom with little more to guide them than their hazy recollection of exempla tuenda and exempla monenda from the practices of “good” and “bad” teachers in their past. The notions that mastery of a subject will automatically equip someone to teach it to others or that effective teaching cannot be learned have long been debunked. But many graduate programs continue to underestimate how important pedagogical training will be for the career prospects and professional success of their students.1

Given the number of public universities that are downsizing their classics programs, an increasing proportion of our graduating Ph.D.s may find themselves [End Page 124] looking to teach at liberal arts colleges and high schools. This trend makes it all the more urgent that our graduate programs take seriously the task of providing a robust pedagogical training for all their graduate students, not just those enrolled in MAT programs. This paper considers what aspects of pedagogical training might best prepare students for teaching at a liberal arts college.

Teaching is a major aspect of the professional responsibilities of almost all classics professors. At liberal arts colleges, however, teaching excellence is usually the single most important criterion in hiring and tenure decisions, reflecting the centrality of student learning to the mission of these institutions. Here are the four criteria for tenure at my college:2

  1. 1. Excellence as a teacher as reflected in quality of, and enthusiasm for, work, effectiveness of methods, interest in subject matter, concern for student learning, effective advising of students within and outside the major, and continued academic preparation and improvement.

  2. 2. An emerging pattern of professional activities as reflected, for example, by publications, presentations at scholarly meetings or conferences, and, in the arts, by manifestations of creativity demonstrated through exhibits or performances; another example may be involvement in professional and/or public organizations, boards, and commissions related to one’s academic fields or college assignments.

  3. 3. An emerging pattern of involvement in the activities of the College.

  4. 4. Continuing evidence of sympathy with the aims and purposes of the College as stated in the Mission Statement.

As readers will note, excellence as a teacher heads the list. If we parse the wording, we notice that criteria 2 and 3—scholarly production and service to the college—are categories in which an emerging pattern of involvement must be demonstrated. Criterion 1 is more exacting. Having served on the personnel committee, the committee that evaluates tenure candidates, I can emphatically confirm that teaching excellence is indeed the sine qua non requirement for gaining tenure.

Teaching excellence is also the quality that liberal arts colleges are looking for in job candidates. Whereas at research universities the lynchpin of the on-campus interview is the job talk, a scholarly lecture pitched at faculty, at liberal arts colleges it is usually the teaching demonstrations that are front and center. At my college, for example, each of the three on-campus finalists are asked to teach the genitive absolute to a beginning Greek class as well as to give a lecture to a large myth class. Students in those classes then gave feedback evaluating the performances.

The faculty in liberal arts colleges enjoy a wealth of opportunities to engage in further development as teachers. At my college we gather fortnightly for lunchtime presentations called “Teachers Talking” in which faculty members present on a variety of issues related to teaching. A parallel series called [End Page 125] “Teachers Talking Technology” showcases ways in which technology can benefit student learning. Yet another is devoted to issues concerning the teaching of writing. These and many other events provide regular opportunities for us to talk about pedagogy with colleagues across the disciplines. Classicists learn from the practices of modern linguists and...


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