Homines dum docent discunt. “Men learn while they teach,” at least according to the ancient Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger. But where does teaching fit into the PhD experience today?
I was told early on in my career as a PhD student that teaching was something best avoided during my studies if at all possible. The assumption behind this advice was of course that the real learning of a PhD program is done through research, alone with a computer screen, a stack of books, and if you’re an art historian like me, copious batches of often poorly scanned images. After I made my accepted contribution to the field I could reemerge into the world to impart my insight and knowledge to a grateful academic community (wherever they may be).
Anyone who has been in a PhD program has probably heard a similar line of logic from professors, recent graduates, and current graduate students. On the surface, it makes sense. Original research is hard and teaching is time-consuming. Endless hours grading papers does cut into time you could be spending finishing that dissertation chapter. At the same time, it seems odd to so easily detach teaching from learning in preparation for a career where most likely you’ll be, well, teaching.
Over the course of the semester, I’ll be blogging about my own past teaching experiences at CUNY and other universities to explore how teaching can become a meaningful part of the PhD process. Ideally, teaching as a graduate student can contribute much more than CV-building or professional training. Teaching can also be an outlet to think through research, methodologies, and common assumptions in the field, test out arguments against evidence, and essentially, rediscover for ourselves why our work as humanities scholars matters. In other words, I’ll be thinking (and blogging) about how to learn from teaching.