Panic is Not an Option, or, How to Write a Lecture

Over the past six years I have been teaching on an hourly-based contract. My ‘day-job’ has varied over the years (mainly being a PhD student and then acting as an educational developer for the History Subject Centre). ‘My night and weekend job’ was generally researching or writing up research for scholarly publication. This year, I am breaking new ground by undertaking a full-time teaching position. While I greatly enjoying teaching (and am extremely pleased to be able to devote more of my time to it), I find myself in a very strange situation, teaching full-time in a ‘research university’. Over the next twelve weeks, I will be chronicling my ‘Adventures in Teaching Fellowship’ and exploring, not only my own transition, but also that strange creature know as the teaching fellow.

In many ways, I have started out this fellowship with some distinct advantages. Unlike many of my fellow fellows, I had nearly six months notice of my position and a significant amount of freedom in designing and redesigning the modules I was asked to teach. Although my employment (and pay check) had not yet commenced, I could take the time to really think about how I wanted to organise my teaching. Time can be a dangerous thing.

Over the past three months I have been obsessing over creating the perfect lectures for my module on the Atlantic World. Because the module has not been offered in several years, I was able to radically restructure the lecture and seminar programmes to suit my own strengths and interests. Suddenly, years of smouldering angst over that age-old dilemma (chronological v. thematic) came to the fore. Now was my chance to structure a module the way I always knew it should be. I sat down, loaded PowerPoint, and suddenly, quite unexpectedly, my mind drew an utter and terrifying blank. I panicked.

It was not that I did not know the material I needed to present. I have been immersed in Atlantic World historiography since I was an undergraduate. I simply had too many ideas and no way of determining the correct course of action. I was, in all honesty, paralysed with indecision. But, at least, I thought, I have four months until my first lecture. I am sure it will all turn out for the best.

Three months later I was not much closer. I had created a programme and developed reading lists to accompany it. Indeed, I had spent much of the summer re-reading these books and articles in search of inspiration. But I was no closer to a set of completed lectures.

I gave up, and it was probably the right decision.

I did not give up permanently, mind you. I simply needed a moment (a week or two) to relax and then to make some tough decisions. In the end, I came up with five lecture writing rules. They may not work for everyone. In fact, they probably won’t. But they work for me and for what I want my students to achieve over the year.

  1. Lectures are not textbook replacements. A complete chronology is available in the textbook and it is the students’ responsibility to familiarise themselves with it before the lecture.
  2. Having my students leave with three or four fully-explored concepts is better than leaving with a comprehensive list names and dates.
  3. If I want my students to think, rather than merely transcribe, my lectures should offer spaces for individual reflection.
  4. Just became the module is comparative does not mean that I need to discuss every single nation or ethnic group every single week.
  5. I am allowed 7 hours to create a lecture and not a minute more.
So, with these five simple rules firmly established, will I succeed? Only time will tell.

2 thoughts on “Panic is Not an Option, or, How to Write a Lecture

  1. shornrapunzel

    Good luck! I am giving my first large lecture class "lecture" on Monday and cannot believe I am not more nervous/obsessive about it yet! We shall see what tomorrow brings…

    – Chelsea

  2. M. H. Beals

    Many thanks and enjoy your lecture tomorrow!

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